Every morning, I remember I’d read my daily horoscope in the astrology column of the newspaper on my way to school, hoping for an exciting turn in my future such as a new crush or merely a pleasant day. It was a ritual I had followed for years even though almost nothing the horoscope ever said turned out to be accurate or even materialized in real life. But since my astrological sign, Leo seemed to describe me so accurately and more importantly, so flatteringly, I was hooked onto my horoscope chart. But this isn't just me or a "group of delusional blokes" who have internalised a strong astrological belief, it's most of India and the same astrology fever spreads across the globe as well.
In Bollywood movies and most recently, in Netflix's reality show, Indian Matchmaking, we've witnessed how birth charts of the bride and groom can make or break the marriage as matching "Kundalis" is an imperative step before finalising the wedding. Consulting an astrologer is not restricted to marital affairs but even financial decisions in India. This reliance on astrologers for validating people's major life decisions has been very lucrative for the business of astrology. Now, people don't even need to physically meet or go to a professional astrologer, they can sit back at home and consult an astrologer online or request for a birth chart through a website.
You must be wondering why astrology is still so popular even among millennials when it has been debunked by scientists several times. Partly, this could be because it's a billion-dollar industry worldwide, thus, there's an incentive to keep astrology intriguing to the masses. Second is the accentuation in demand for this pseudoscience by digital technology.
With social media diverging with astrology, the pseudoscience has taken a new form - one that resonates with millennials and Gen Z. Yes, astrological predictions and beliefs are now incorporated in memes. You must have come across the astrology pages on Instagram and Twitter with hundreds of followers with jokes on Mercury retrograde, and posts that categorize "the signs as.." - ice-cream flavours, dog breeds, types of junk foods, Mean Girls characters, etc.
Even popular publications such as Vice and the Cut publish weekly or monthly horoscopes on their website and social media pages. Stella Bugbee, the president and editor-in-chief of The Cut, during an interview with the Atlantic, says a typical horoscope post on the site got 150 per cent more traffic in 2017 than the year before. This shows there's an interest in astrology residing in the minds of the younger generations as well.
“Over the past two years, we’ve really seen a reframing of New Age practices, very much geared toward a Millennial and young Gen X quotient,” says Lucie Greene, the worldwide director of J. Walter Thompson’s innovation group, which tracks and predicts cultural trends.
New age astrology is perfect for leisurely browsing as it's less weighted than science. For example, people would rather read their horoscope chart rather than a lengthy psychology research paper on their behaviour. Overall, there's a low barrier to entry and endless pit of information to devour. The in-depth information online has allowed astrology to make a comeback, a more lighthearted one as people make memes about their astrological sign online or jokingly blame their sun sign for their quirks and flaws.
In addition, in a world where rationality, science and technology dominate our lives, one can feel constricted in terms of the meaning they can create out of their lives. Current ideals can make us feel like a job, financial security, relationships are all our lives should revolve around and that our own desires are relatively unimportant. But astrology offers an alternative path where we can venture into the celestial sphere and feel as if we’re the centre of the universe for a short while.
J. Walter Thompson’s intelligence group released a trend report in 2016 called “Unreality” that says much the same thing: “We are increasingly turning to unreality as a form of escape and a way to search for other kinds of freedom, truth and meaning,” it reads. “What emerges is an appreciation for magic and spirituality, the knowingly unreal, and the intangible aspects of our lives that defy big data and the ultra-transparency of the web.” But this is simply one of the reasons why we're suckers for astrology, here are some more.
We tend to believe something if we're told specifics
Have you ever had someone hold your hand or "read your face" and successfully identify a trait of yours such as - "you have fewer friends as you find it difficult to trust people"? You must have stared at them with disbelief and wondered, "how did a stranger know that about me?"
What's happening here is the Barnum Effect which states that we're more inclined to believe in something if we are told it offers specific insight into us. If that astrologer would've told you that you are going to be lucky next month, you might brush them off on the account of their vagueness. But it's hard to ignore somebody who claims to know our deep, true selves.
The good thing about star sign descriptions is that even when they're talking about our character flaws, they give them a positive spin. For example, for a Scorpio, the personality traits may be that they put up a tough exterior and may seem standoffish. But once you get to know them, they're loving people. If you're a Scorpio, you might read that and think that's true as it presents your flaws in a flattering manner but still speaks about your flaws.
Along with the Barnum Effect, there's apophenia, the brain's tendency to infer a nonexistent pattern in chaos. This is because of our tendency towards pattern recognition. So, if our horoscope tells us that we tend to be short-tempered or frivolous with our money - even if we're not, we pick up the few instances of when we were acting that way and form a pattern in our heads.
Astrology can help relieve stress
People tend to turn to astrology when they're distressed. According to a 1982 study: "people who consult astrologers did so in response to stressors in their lives—particularly stress linked to the individual’s social roles and to his or her relationships." The lead researcher and psychologist Graham Tyson found, “Under conditions of high stress, the individual is prepared to use astrology as a coping device even though under low-stress conditions he does not believe in it.”
American Psychological Association survey data says that since 2014, Millennials and Gen Xers have been the most stressed generation. Additionally, Gen Z also faces increased stress from political turmoil and mental health issues. Astrology offers people in crisis the hope of a brighter future, a reminder of the cliched quote - This too shall pass.
Have a look at the story of the 32-year-old Sandhya working at a non-profit firm in Washington D.C. Back in 2013, she was lonely and unsatisfied with her job so he took to drinking as her escape. She was desperate to know when things would finally get better in her life and Astrology Zone, an astrology website had an answer. Sandhya recalls reading that if she cut the clutter out of her daily life now, she’d reap the rewards when Jupiter, the planet of good fortune, arrived.
Sandhya spent next year making room for Jupiter and started focussing on self-care such as cooking for herself, relaxing more often, applying for new jobs and going on more dates. “I definitely distanced myself from two or three friends who I didn’t feel had good energy when I hung around them,” she told the Atlantic. “And that helped significantly.”
Surprisingly, the prediction on planetary positions turned out to be right as Jupiter entered Leo on July 16, 2014. It was that same July that Sandhya was offered a new job and a few months later, she met the man of her dreams. “My life changed dramatically. Part of it is that a belief in something makes it happen. But I followed what the app was saying. So I credit some of it to this Jupiter belief,” she said.
We feel better relying on astrology in times of uncertainty
We're not fans of uncertainty as it makes us uncomfortable and anxious - the pandemic is a great example of that. So, finding some direction in astrological predictions can help people soothe their worries about the future. In fact, studies say that we dislike not knowing the future more than knowing something bad is definitely going to happen. “If they’re going through a time of disruption, they suddenly start to take what’s written about their sign much more seriously,” astrologer Jonathan Cainer, who writes horoscope columns for The Daily Mail, said.
In times of the coronavirus pandemic, astrologers across India, US and UK have been consoling people by providing them predictions on when the virus will go away. Some astrologers and tarot card readers claim that they've been working overtime to untangle the uncertainties of the pandemic. As a result, Indian companies such as AstroTalk and AstroYogi have reported their revenues have doubled in the last few months.
Astrology helps us snap out of indecision
With choices in abundance, indecision is inevitable. A fork in the road can leave people mulling over which path to take for hours or even days slowing down our progress to reach certain goals. When we don't have enough information to make an informed choice, we might feel hesitant or scared to take a step fearing a bad outcome. However, if our astrological prediction based on our zodiac sign agrees with our inclination, we might feel more confident in making a decision.
Psychologists have noticed that astrological-inclined people tend to have an external locus of control in life - this means they believe their achievements and failures are a result of their circumstance rather than their own actions. “I think there are a real yearning and longing out there for some kind of guidance and meaning… A lot of people don’t quite know what they are looking for. I think astrology falls into that,” Stefan Durlach, a consulting psychologist from Sydney, told Cracked.
We're all looking for validation and astrology provides us with it
Astrology appeals to our need to be a unique individual while being part of a group. We want to be able to read insanely specific personality trait-based zodiac sign descriptions about ourselves but also want to be able to identify with other "Aquarians" or "Leos" around the world. While it's true that one can receive validation from our friends and family in one's daily life but the amount of validation in a birth chart, numerological report, horoscope reports is incomparable to interpersonal validation. It describes intimate details about us to ourselves and also gives us permission to accept our flaws as they're often presented as a result of planetary positions and not unresolved issues. Above everything, astrology offers a comforting cocoon of certainty in a world that seems to be slipping out of our control.