I remember how perplexed I was as a freshman in college in 1968, a few months after Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, when other students started talking about their planets being out of alignment.
I was ignorant about astrology, having never bought into the pseudo-science or read daily newspaper horoscopes, so was far out of the loop when this new cultural trendline emerged among youth.
Well, after fading somewhat out of fashion in the ensuing years since, astrology fascination is apparently back as a thing among the young, especially millennials (people born roughly between 1982 and the start of the new millennia).
In a Washington Post feature article earlier this month, staff writer Maura Judkis wrote of astrology’s newfound cache among the young set.
“Amid the millennial self-care set, astrology is back. After the heady ‘What’s your sign?’ spirituality of their parents’ youth, the practice receded to the edges of culture as a kooky space-filler in the newspaper, albeit one that was read devotedly. But now, the pseudoscience isn’t as much of a taboo as it used to be. It’s been embraced by young people, who jokingly ascribe the inconveniences of life — a delayed train, a broken laptop — to Mercury’s retrograde. They know that Pisces are sensitive and Leos are self-involved and Geminis are kind of the worst.”
Carrying that gogglygook theme of incomprehensible terminology further, Judkis said a astrology practitioner she interviewed in research for this piece told her that “my Mercury is in the eighth house, which rules Scorpio and is forming an aspect to Uranus,” which the explainer said meant she was “interested in the occult, the things that are different, unconventional, maybe even taboo.”
Judkis’ initial reaction to this “woo” — paranormal beliefs with tenuous or no scientific basis — was similar to mine in 1968.
“If you analyze the woo too much,” she wrote. “You realize you seem totally nuts.”
But as she descended further into its inner sanctums, she realized she found it all very interesting, abeit questionable. She found it could have positive effects on people who buy into it and then connect happy feelings and occurrences to its underlying assumptions.
In that way, astrology operates much like supernatural religion. For example, Catholics believe an all-forgiving divinity is watching over them, so after they formally confess their sins to a priest — a required rite of Catholicism — they feel contrite, emotionally unburdened, lighter in the world, validated in their beliefs.
But still, whither God above? Likewise, whither the validation of the core astrological theory that how heavenly spheres are aligned at the moment of one’s birth determines their life’s daily trajectory?
It’s all invention, to all appearances, but apparently emotionally satisfying to all who gravitate toward it. For instance, right-wingers watch Fox News instead of, say, NPR, not to get reliable, balanced information about the nation and world (duh) but for the emotional kick of joining in full-throated condemnations of hated liberals.
Still, Fox draws the largest news-media audience, by far, and vastly outearns other cable news outlets.
An emotional kick is the same draw for astrology aficionados, and retail astrologers are paying attention. Aside from self-styled astrology gurus who hang shingles on the streets to pull in random customer seeking a “reading” of their tarot cards or personal aura, much bigger businesses are emerging. Judkis reported that the “mystical services market,” which includes wildly popular smart-phone apps, is now a $2 billion-a-year industry.And it’s not just selling touchy-feely New Age platitudes. An app titled Bull and Moon recently launched that promises to help users successfully pick stocks according to their astrological signs.
What is old is made new again.
Judkis says popular modern mass-market astrology was born in about 1930 as a gimmick in the Sunday Express, a British newspaper, that wanted something to compete with public attention after the birth of Princess Margaret. Astrologer R.H. Naylor wrote an article predicting “events of tremendous importance to the royal family and the nation” would come to pass in the princess’ seventh year.
Close enough. Her uncle, King Edward VIII, abdicated the throne for the love of an American divorcee, and Britain had entered World War II by 1939.
Naylor became a celebrity astrology with a weekly newspaper column, and daily horoscope columns elsewhere soon became fixtures in urban and community newspapers worldwide.
Despite its viral popularity, though, astrology remained at best a “pseudo-science,” at worst a baseless fraud, it’s millennia-long pedigree throughout history notwithstanding.
It’s continuing fascination for many people seems to stem from the human desire to entertain fanciful notions, whether or not they have much if any grounding in reality, especially if they’re personal.
“I mean, come on. No one actually thinks that the stars and planets determine their personality,” Judkis wrote. “Except, the tumult of one’s late 20s is because of Saturn’s return, and right now, you’re probably feeling that Scorpio season energy, and what if water and earth signs really do just get along better?”
And it now has a thoroughly modern validator.
“There’s a tendency that if there’s an app for it, it somehow gives it more credibility,” parapsychology researcher James Alcock of York University, Canada, told Judkis.
Oh goody, yet another reason for young people to spend more time on their phones.
Please sign up (top right) to receive new Godzooks posts via email, Facebook or Twitter
Thanks for reading my Godzooks blog. FYI, now and through the Christmas season, my memoir, “3,001 Arabian Days,” will be available on Amazon at a discount — $12 (was $15.95) for the paperback, and $5 (was $6.99) in Kindle format. Enjoy! Access it on my Amazon page: http://tinyurl.com/y7rzla44. See more info below: