It comes up every time I go to a social event, whatever the cause or crowd. Each time, it’s being feverishly debated more than what’s on TV or what we’re reading. I’m talking, of course, about star signs.
Something like the weather will be discussed and out of nowhere, the conversation will pivot to the topic of no return (or rather, Saturn return). “Typical Virgo,” I’ll say in response to a retort from someone who is typically Virgo. Then I’ll witter on about being a cardinal sign and blame something on my Sagittarius rising. After a few more drinks, I’m suddenly keying in the time of birth of a total stranger into an app we think will tell us everything about them.
Receptiveness to star sign chat has come a long way from a decade ago, when it would usually be me discussing these things with myself. The normalization of astrology has been one of my favorite shifts of late. Dating apps like Hinge, Bumble and Tinder allow users to include their astrological signs in their profiles and filter results accordingly. The outdated, oft-corny horoscopes in the back of magazines have been revamped with resident astrologers. “Cusp signs” and “Mercury being in retrograde” becoming mainstream means having more and more people to discuss my previously fringe interests with. And it’s not just star signs that normies have adopted. Healing crystals are incorporated into high street jewellery. Manifestation has meme status. Smudging your home with sage is as conventional as lighting a candle.
But as the interest in these things soars, so has the pushback. For every person curiously downloading Co-Star, there is someone who loudly insists that it is garbage and is intent on making sure you know it. It’s interesting, watching the incensed reaction that such harmless beliefs can ignite in those who think it’s all made up. Even if they are only tenuously held. Most people I know who enjoy astrology don’t live and die by it but simply have a passing interest, but even that’s enough to provoke outrage. A belief in horoscopes – or ghosts or aliens or manifestation – isn’t regarded with the same stoic acceptance as religious beliefs (although astrology is a key tenet of Hinduism). So people are more than happy to assume you’re simply stupid if you’re open to it.
I’ve been used to this cynicism since school. One thing about being a slightly offbeat tween is that you get to relentlessly remind people you did things before they were cool. An early adopter of astrology, my interest saw me either branded a witch by religious people or gullible by the secular. It all started in primary school, when my mum (a Christian woman, but an open-minded Aquarius) printed off a fact sheet about Libras at work and gave it to me. It felt comforting, seeing a neatly bullet-pointed explainer to make sense of myself. Despite the scoffing, I’ve been hooked ever since.
Anything that I felt helped summarize who I was, I was into. I learned all about my birthstone (Sapphire). I dabbled in the Chinese zodiac as a teenager (year of the goat). When Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret (a book about the law of attraction) got big in the Noughties, my dad bought it on an audiotape which he played in the car on the way to church. I distinctly remember the first time I heard it thinking, “There’s a word for this? I do this all the time.” Being raised Christian means I’ve always been adjacent to spirituality, but by the time I hit adulthood my transition into a full blown “chakra hun” was complete. Aside from burning palo santo and being partial to a healing crystal, I’ve always been open to experiences. Discovering Santeria, a fusion of Christianity and Yoruba traditional religion, after a trip to Cuba. A ritualistic “earth work” retreat with the incredible Secret Yoga Club. Getting an eerily accurate birth chart reading that I still quote as part of a party anecdote, by the Evening Standard‘s resident astrologer, Astrology Vixen.
In short, I’m all in when it comes to “mumbo jumbo” – or rather, what other people might feel should be described as such. And thus, I have been on the receiving end of the disdain often lobbed at smart women who dabble in it. But in a world we still know so little about, I’ve never understood why some people get so angry about the ways in which other people make sense of it. We are quite literally talking slabs of meat, sat on a spinning (and potentially doomed) rock, for no discernible reason – is it truly implausible that some people born in particular months of the year are prone to particular personality traits? Although we don’t have it all figured out through science, we act like people are silly for trying to fill the gaps. Of course, some attempts to do so are ridiculous and harmful: toxic religious dogmas, dangerous conspiracy theories. But I struggle to think of instances in which star signs and the like broadly do harm; in fact, they’re lots of fun.
A quote from Peep Show‘s Jeremy Usborne comes to mind: “Mark,” he asks his disagreeable roommate, audibly exasperated. “Do you have to live quite so relentlessly in the real world?” I find myself asking the same thing when somebody corners me about the lack of scientific evidence behind star signs. No one is trying to convert non-believers; we’re simply asking you to leave those of us that do alone. Allow us to Google the compatibility between fire and air signs, to talk about energies and frequencies. People say that star signs don’t tell you anything about a person but I disagree. Bring them up in company and snide reactions will quickly tell you who among you is a boring bastard.