Lucky Star, Maybe
“I don’t believe in astrology; I’m a Sagittarius and we’re skeptical.” — Arthur C. Clarke.
“Palmistry and astrology are good because they make people vivid and full of possibilities. They are communism at its best. Everybody has a birthday and everybody has a palm” — Kurt Vonnegut.
Some time within the last 18 months, I started hearing “Mercury retrograde” almost daily, though only ever from women, and only ever online. Do u believe in mercury retrograde? a friend had asked me last January. Have been having such a bad time again and a few days after it started i found out that mercury was kicking about again. I think i believe in it, because i always find out about it after i've been feeling crazy, not as a precursor. When I admitted to her that I had, indeed, been depressed, she wrote back: c?
But, I reasoned with her, wasn’t I often depressed? It seemed absurd to blame the universe for something so frequent. Agnostic about my ‘sign’, I’d always favoured the cult of mental health, instead, which offered a satisfying medical explanation for my blues, i.e. I was simply crazy, rather than star struck. This, in its own way, was comforting; rather than being New Age, I was old-school in thinking myself a hysteric. Suddenly, though, I noticed that all the Internet Girls were brandishing star signs: on Twitter, on Tumblr, in online dating profiles, in tattoos, in articles called things like Find Out Which Rapper Is Your Astrological Soulmate. Women whose work I adored were beginning to talk about “Venus-Mars conjunctions” the way that they’d previously talked about Simone Weil or Anne Sexton. Missed deadlines, once blamed on depression, were palmed off on Mercury. Business Insider, scarcely able to mask their incredulity, put it in writing. “Horoscopes,” their headline yelled, “Are Surprisingly Popular With Educated People!” As if to add — who knew?
“I blame Susan Miller — and Taylor Swift!” says Annabel Gat, astrologer for Broadly, a Vice channel/website originally marketed as “The New Yorker for women,” which offsets its esoteric content with profiles of figures like Eileen Myles and Virginie Despentes. Gat links me to a clip of the beigest pop star alive “Defining The Internet,” courtesy of MTV: “When Mercury is in retrograde, that means, basically, that everything is going to be completely wrong and messed-up and miscommunicated... And you can’t blame yourself, you just have to blame Mercury — because it’s, like, hella in retrograde.”
In the weeks before Broadly’s launch, Gat had railed against Mercury mania, penning an article with the title Your Life Sucks Because It Sucks, Not Because Of Mercury Retrograde! “There’s a misconception that Mercury retrogrades are surprising, rare, and/or random occurrences,” she writes, “and they’re not: we know when they will occur, and they occur three, sometimes four, times a year. 2016 will be a year with four Mercury retrogrades. There’s no real special significance to this, except that you get one more opportunity that year to complain about the retrograde.”
Calling the interest of smart young women in modern astrology — and in broader New Age thinking — “a recent resurgence” is, in her opinion, “the wrong way to phrase it. The interest has always been there, but now we have so many platforms available for astrologers to share their content, like Instagram and Twitter. When these accounts become popular, it’s natural that larger media outlets are interested.” Added to which, “millennials are creative! People like mythology and magic because they’re fun, and young people have always been interested in self-discovery and finding their identity, anyway. Astrology is just one way to do that.”
Mi Gerer, a New York artist, writes a weekly horoscope for Galore magazine (“a media brand for the modern bombshell”) which promises to advise the reader on “whether to expect drama, chill vibes, hot sex, or all of the above over the coming week.” “I don’t know why everyone puts so much focus on Mercury retrograde,” she agrees. “Maybe Mercury retrograde got so ‘popular’ because Mercury rules social interactions, including social media. In both Greek and Roman mythology, Hermes/Mercury is known as the messenger, and the fastest of all gods. Soon, the other planets will be invading social media as well. Mercury was first; next is, maybe, Venus, bringing love and compassion into our lives.”
Gerer’s horoscopes are fluent in the internet’s style and vernacular, so that ‘Gemini’ is pictured as Naomi Campbell twice, in a baby-blue plastic miniskirt. Representing Pisces, Rihanna — here, as in life, as a blunt-smoking mermaid. The texts themselves read something like: “MO money MO problems… but not for you, Pisces!” Or: “Foxy Venus is entering your fifth house of fun, romance, and true love. You are so hot right now and you’re not even trying!” They are, effectively, moon-age pep talks courtesy of your most Snapchat-proficient girlfriend.
Asking the stars for direction is, Gerer says, appropriate in a post-internet age where “we’re happy addressing our problems through Google,” because whether or not we believe in our star signs, we daily commune with the void like it’s actually listening (sample question, from this weekend: “How do I work out my Saturn return?”). “Astrology is just a way of recognising potential. What you do with that potential is up to you,” continues Gerer. “These days, we don’t actually meet most people in real life, we just interact with them in the virtual world. When we look for somebody’s birth date or sun sign, we feel we can better categorize them and predict the ways they are going to react, therefore understand their personality better.”
“My personal theory about the resurgence of interest in astrology is that people have discovered that, as a discipline, it is highly responsive to queering,” says Corina Dross, who writes astrology columns for cult youth site, Mask Magazine and Autostraddle, an online magazine aimed at LGBTQ women. “This allows younger astrology enthusiasts the chance to participate in updating outdated archetypes to reflect their own lives. It’s this freedom to rewrite the old rules that I’m most interested in, and that I see most often in my students and clients.”
It’s difficult, when I’m vibrating with caffeine and flicking between the four, maybe five utterly useless email tabs here on my laptop, on deadline, to force myself to think about something as vague and remote as “the stars”. Who gives a damn if the moon is in Venus when I’m, mostly, stuck here in hell? A while ago, I wrote about this semi-psychotic half breakdown I had, where I started to read gossip tabloids obsessively, parsing the stories for personal meaning — you get, I am sure, the gist of where I am headed with this analogy where I am mining the lives of the “stars” for significance; being “postmodern” about it and, maybe, “insufferable” also.
In particular, I had seized on Lindsay Lohan — then on about her fifth DUI — as my redheaded groundhog. Following the logic of “stars — they’re just like us!”, I saw her breakups, crashes, drug arrests and public humiliations as psychic mirrors for something unnamed that was happening to me; seeking a sick kind of sisterhood, I read her like tea leaves for failure, failing to notice that this in itself was not much like succeeding. Similarly aged celebrity women who excelled where I floundered, I chose to ignore, as their lives did not fit the desired, damned narrative. No loser — sane or insane — looks for patterns that prove they are outlying data, and back then I knew I was losing — it, money, the plot — even if I was unsure of everything else. This was as close as I came to believing; evidently, however, I’m not alone in my habits, as there exists (or existed) a magazine with the self-explanatory title Celebrity Astrology, covering both kinds of stars and their interplay.
“No, it’s not a heavy tome on astrological compatibility,” says a reviewer called — yes, really — Sasstrology.” “But if you meet the following conditions, you may actually find it’s worth your five bucks: 1) You really care about celebrities. 2) You are familiar with planets and signs. 3) You like your astrology breezy and light.”
“Diddy’s reluctance to make a commitment may be nearing an end as [his progressed] ascendant, moon and Venus come together,” reads the issue she’s profiling. “[Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’] compatibility is thwarted by their mutual Jupiter and Saturn opposition, an aspect that indicates one is restrictive of the other, tending to impose their ideals…” This last astrological divination has since proven, obviously, true, though given the many stories about the nature of Cruise’s and Holmes’ marriage, I’d also hazard a guess that their breakup was not down to Jupiter. One half’s ideals may have jarred with the other’s, but nothing about it was planetary.
Any relationship has to go one of two ways — it continues, or it doesn’t, and so any outside prediction succeeds 50/50, de facto. “When you’re feeling stuck,” says the Editors’ Letter of N+1 magazine’s New Age edition, “one way to convince yourself change is in the near to middle distance is to read a horoscope.” And — aren’t I? Still, I loathe the idea of being the subject of bets – even cosmic ones. This is another reason I’ve tended towards disliking the idea of horoscopes and astrology — never a natural gambler, I shrank away from playing the odds.
If the zodiac’s house always wins, I’d figured, then why bother playing? So, didn’t.
On YouTube, Madonna is raving about her love of astrology, which she says she believes in “to the extent that I have my astrological chart done, and I read a book about it every day, and I ask people what sign they are.”
“What sign are you?” she asks the interviewer, who looks not unlike Fabio.
(Maybe-Fabio says, “Cancer.”)
“You are? When’s your birthday?”
(Maybe-Fabio, wary: “July.”)
“Mmm. My Mother was a Cancer. My birthday’s August 16th, so I’m…”
(“A Leo,” observes Maybe-Fabio, mutedly, “which is “a fire sign.”)
“Yeah. Yeah, it’s a fire sign.”
Asked which Leonine qualities she, Madonna, possesses, she begins the lesson in earnest:
“My rising moon is in Aquarius,” she offers, coolly, jutting her jaw, “and then my moon is in Virgo. So an Aquarian is, traditionally, a rebel — a creative person who sort of doesn’t follow the rules. Hence the phrase ‘the age of Aquarius’, which was sort of, you know, what the ’60s were. People experimented with free love, and drugs, and, you know, the experimental, rebellious side of me – that’s Aquarius. And Virgo is much more… it’s very organised. It’s business-minded, it’s very anal-retentive. That’s my business side. And then Leo — Leo has to be the centre of attention. So, there you go.”
(“You know all about this!” exclaims Maybe-Fabio, noting perhaps that while it’s true the description could fit any number of women, it’s also true that there’s nobody quite as Virgoan-Aquarian-Leonine right now — right here, on this Earth — as Madonna.)
Madonna smiles, though just barely, and then says:
“Yeah. Yeah, I do.”
America’s very first billionaire, JP Morgan, supposedly once said that while “millionaires don’t use astrology, billionaires do.” Nobody, of course, can remember the context, so Morgan might have been saying that billionaires are paranoid and superstitious as much as he’s saying that astrology-lovers succeed. Either way, there are 1,810 billionaires in the world, and of these, only 197 are female. Madonna, whose sound financial advice in Material Girl might have saved a billion women from deadbeat boyfriends to date, is halfway there with her net worth and, it would seem, all-in with her horoscopes.
“They — straight men — are supposed to be aligned with the rational, aren’t they?” a friend of mine, who edits a science-fiction magazine, shrugged. “And astrology is traditionally fey. It’s traditionally femme. There’s also this sense that nothing about the world makes sense now anyway, so why not?” This would also appear to be the scientific line – that men, as confident as they are in the final, exemplary outcomes of their own (white, heterosexual) lives, don’t typically need the assurance. If the earthly realm is tipped in your favour, why look to the heavens?
“The ‘locus of control,’” an article on Mashable outlines, “is a psychological concept that defines how much power people have over what happens in their lives. Someone with an external locus of control would believe they don’t have much control over what happens; they succumb to fate. Someone with an internal locus believes they control their own life events. If women on average score higher than men on external locus of control, that is likely to be the mechanism that is driving [women’s belief in astrology].” Seeking a final diagnosis, they consult a (male) psychologist, Dr. Saad, who sounds as if he is talking as much about a belief in God as in horoscopes. “The person who has an internal locus of control would not believe this nonsense. They wouldn’t believe something in the sky is what’s determining whether they find love, or find Fido their lost dog, or get married tomorrow.”
“Actually, I think the moon plays a very important role in women allowing themselves to connect more with esoteric practices,” says Gerer, when I ask whether it’s true that astrology is, first and foremost, a women’s concern. “The moon is traditionally associated with the mother, or with a feminine energy; it waxes and wanes throughout the month, just like women, and depending on our menstrual cycle, we also experience different mood swings. Women are also allowed to be more emotional. But trust me, there are more and more men into astrology who also look for that special connection, and are curious about life’s mysteries. I know plenty. Men just have a different life itinerary; they want to accomplish certain things first, before settling down with ‘the one.’”
Shamefully, another reason I’d shunned astrology is that, like romance novels — or, in Dr. Saad’s mind, the twin goals of “find[ing] love” and “get[ting]” married tomorrow — I’d long had it pegged as a girly disease. Boys’ club feminism ruined me in my late teens, early twenties, as it did many women; I was, briefly, one of those tedious women who “just gets on better with men” (a few days ago, I read that Jessica Chastain had told a reporter: “this myth that women don’t get along well – who does that serve? Because it doesn’t serve women,” and all I could think was: God, what was I missing?). For what it’s worth, it appears that male approval of horoscopes doesn’t run far behind. “Actually,” Annabel Gat confirms, “I know just as many serious astrologers who are men as I do women. I also have just as many fans that are men as are women. As to why astrology is marketed directly more to women than men — it can only really be to do with stereotypes.”
Gerer agrees: “For a very long time, our society has been split into two categories, female and male. In astrology, we all have different planets and elements, some more dominant than others. Some planets have male energies, and others female energies. As society is finally allowing more and more people to have different sexual orientations — and a choice to use either male or female energies, no matter what gender — we can carry different energies in different activities, so that we don’t have to live like archetypes.”
Over the winter, I once cracked open a fortune cookie to find a slip that said: “you would make an excellent actor,” which felt less like a compliment than it did an accusation — fortune cookies, for me, being neither more nor less about superstition than horoscopes. I felt sick and, worse, seen. The idea of being perpetually watched by the universe is bone-chilling. All else aside, if I’d wanted to feel seen at all times, I would’ve kept praying. There is something worse, though, which is never being seen, and seeing nobody.
Here is a scrambled message, caught like a star in a bottle: I am a Pisces whose moon is in Aquarius. I have some outstanding qualities in my field, and I work like a magnet for those with the same interests. My deluxe moon energy might make me really good at setting financial goals, though this doesn’t seem accurate. My sign is either the fish, or Rihanna. I hope it’s Rihanna. My messenger planet, Mercury, is in its natural base in the third house of communication this week, and as a result my conversation is so smooth. If I were a Thing In The Video For Hotline Bling, I — that is, Pisces — would be Drake himself. I won’t feel lonely in 2016. I am experiencing a month of unprecedented calm. I know how to feel intensely without showing it. I am, mostly, characterised by empathy, ruled by Neptune, and more emotionally expressive than most. If I were to date a rapper based on astrology, it would be Kanye West.
Illustration by Alessandra Criseo