Before making any major life decision, Lara has taken to booking in a tarot card reading. “I want reassurance that I’m on the right path,” she says.
Lara is one of many millennials looking to the stars for guidance. They include Katy Perry and Taylor Swift who reportedly bonded over a mutual affection for horoscope readings (and blame their star signs for their well-publicised fall out). Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s former life coach, Megan Hellerer, recently referenced Saturn Return in an interview with New York Magazine. Then there’s Roxanne Gay and Lizzo who have both been gifted readings by renowned LA-based astrologer Chani Nicholas. And, if you needed any further proof that astrology has gone mainstream (aside from the memes flooding your Instagram feed), Spotify has added a daily horoscopes podcast, Bumble now lets users filter matches based on star sign, and every second woman I know receives a Co-Star notification each morning.
The way we now interact with astrologers and tarot readers may be truly modern, but astrology itself has been around for thousands of years. Its resurgence is also nothing new: just cast your mind back to the New Age movement of the 1960s and 70s with its focus on spirituality, healing and enlightenment.
The difference now, as aforementioned astrologer Nicholas recently told The Atlantic, is that “something happened in the last five years that’s given [astrology] an edginess, a relevance for this time and place, that it hasn’t had for a good 35 years. Millennials have taken it and run with it.” So, what’s fuelling this new found zodiac obsession among the Instagram generation?
For 31-year-old Steph “astrology is both a bit of fun and secretly a source of reassurance that there’s a wider meaning to the things that happen”. She says she has a tendency to rely on it more during turbulent times, such as during a break-up, “when you’re looking for any kind of sign”.
“Having a reading done is like going to an exercise class; some people will be more skilled at their jobs and some people might be so-so.”
Steph’s interest in astrology started in the same way as it does for many of us: flicking to the back page of a magazine to read her star sign as a teenager. “I’d read those horoscopes every month, and I was so sad to find they were all made up when I interned there,” she says. As Steph got older, she became more interested in the position of the sun in relation to constellations, planets and moons, finding “more serious, substantial sources than a teen magazine telling me someone had a crush on me”. Then she chanced upon a tarot reading at a friend’s birthday.
“It was truly amazing,” she says. “The process is a little bit like therapy, where the reader asks you about a particular problem, or question you might have, and uses the cards to explore your feelings. She then talks it through with you. I tried not to give anything away because I was pretty suspicious of giving her the answer, but things came up I hadn’t even mentioned to her – problems I was having with my mum and work. It was really emotional. I did find it useful – it actually was one of the things that pushed me to quit my job a month later. But I think it’s also the direction; having instructions from something to back up the feelings you’ve been having, but maybe haven’t properly acknowledged or been brave enough to face and deal with.”
Like many of the women I’ve chatted to whilst researching this article, Steph is quick to temper her frequent visits to astrologer Susan Miller’s website with an understanding of the cynicism that surrounds doing so, both from non-believers and her own “logical mind”. “Even though I am a very proof-based kind of person, I do find myself believing in it,” she says, almost apologetically. “I haven’t read Miller’s website in a while though – I guess now I’m in a pretty happy place, I don’t find myself needing clues about my life in the way I used to.”
“I think it’s also the direction; having instructions from something to back up the feelings you’ve been having, but maybe haven’t properly acknowledged or been brave enough to face and deal with.”
Criticism of astrology is also nothing new. After all, there is no scientific basis for the signs of the zodiac having a bearing on your personality because, critics say, it’s based on broad, sweeping generalisations and assumptions. That’s why many see this resurgence as cultural and psychological – something that has piqued the zeitgest.
For Cass, 28, that’s part of its charm. She doesn’t feel any internal or external judgement because she views astrology differently, having grown up in a spiritual household (“my parents were pretty into astrology and other things like reiki, past lives and ‘the universe'”). That means tarot, specifically, has always been a present, guiding force. “I don’t base my life around astrology,” she says. Instead it’s simply a tool in her arsenal; one she’s learned to call upon like others might a life coach.
“Astrology is a space where I can explore inner questions that I don’t necessarily have the answers to and incorporate a bit of magic into my life,” she says. “Tarot is more personal than astrology, but I think it’s fun to look at star signs for some things like dating compatibility. I’ve had [tarot] readings done frequently. Mostly when I’m feeling stuck or like I need a bit of a nudge in a direction. I’ve found some more useful than others. Having a reading done is like going to an exercise class; some people will be more skilled at their jobs and some people might be so-so – about 85 percent were spot on.”
For Cass, the increased interest in astrology among women like her can be directly attributed to fourth-wave feminism: “I think we’ve seen a rise in popularity in metaphysics, astrology and tarot because historically speaking, this was a space where female ‘witch types’ could have access to their own autonomy that was never defined by, or connected to, a man. With the state of the world today, I feel like we’re in ‘the rise of the female’ where a lot more women are taking their power back – whether this is at work, in relationships or fostering and chasing their own goals. So, I think the space where women can explore a woo-woo autonomy can be appealing.”
Of course, there’s also the much-needed light-hearted escapism that astrology provides. “The world is at such an interesting point in history where we have so much negative news readily available at our fingertips,” says Cass. “Many people need something light and positivity in their life.”
“When nothing is really certain, astrology gives people a sense of control. It can give you that context in which you can make meaning and sense of your world.”
London-based psychologist and executive coach Dr Perpetua Neo agrees, explaining that astrology is part of a bigger movement towards mindfulness, spiritual connection and slow living. “These days things like mindfulness, meditation and yoga are gaining much more popularity and acceptance,” Dr Neo says. “A path that used to be considered ‘mumbo-jumbo’ until Harvard researchers started hooking up monks to machines and finding out that meditation actually has lots of benefits. And a lot of these practices are rooted in spirituality. Nowadays spirituality has become a lot more acceptable, something that people can be open about. And, of course, you’ve got the Instagram generation where it’s really cool to talk about all this stuff as a way of making sense of life, finding hope or even as a self-soothing mechanism. Crystals are now as mainstream as eating green.”
That certainly taps into the ‘relevance’ Nicholas referenced. For her part, the astrologer believes part of the appeal is “astrologers are always trying to boil down these giant concepts into digestible pieces of knowledge”. Nicholas says: “The kids these days and their memes are like the perfect context for astrology”. That may be the case, but why do astrological conventions such as ‘Mercury in retrograde’ and ‘Saturn return’ resonate so much with millennials in particular?
“Millennial women were raised within the context of a lot of uncertainty,” Dr Neo says. “We’ve been through a lot of big recessions, we’ve been through 9/11. When nothing is really certain, astrology gives people a sense of control. It can give you that context in which you can make meaning and sense of your world. If I read something and it says something very, very general might happen, this can help guide me.”
Dr Neo believes that horoscopes, the zodiac and birth charts tap into another millennial obsession: online personality charts and quizzes. “We all love to find out things for ourselves,” Dr Neo says. “The birth chart isn’t just where your sun sign is – it tells you what’s going on in the sky at your time of birth, and what’s going on right now in the sky, and how the two interact with each other. It can tell you a lot about how to navigate what’s going on for you right now, your gifts and your challenges and what to do about it. So if people love personality tests then your birth chart can be an even better tool. If people are on the quest for understanding, then it’s no surprise that these charts have become so popular as a way of knowing yourself and what to do about it.”
Dr Neo sounds pretty convinced, so does she – as a millennial woman – subscribe to astrology? “I don’t call myself a believer, but I do subscribe to the need for charts,” she says. “If you have people who understand who they are, then they know how to be.” Isn’t that, in the end, what we’re all searching for in our 20s and 30s?
Main image credit: Co — Star
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