Hi and welcome back! Recently, I saw an astrology column that made me laugh. Somewhere along the way, it looks like astrologists began to realize that boring predictions don’t make for happy customers. My ultra-boring star sign somehow became just a little bit more exciting! Today, Lord Snow Presides over astrology: an industry that is even more fake-seeming than ever.
Erma Bombeck, Astrology, and the Truly Most Boring Star Sign in the World.
Long ago, I read Aunt Erma’s Cope Book: How to Get from Monday to Friday… in 12 Days. In it, humorist Erma Bombeck lampooned the self-help industry. She wrote about strictly following various self-help regimens to disastrous results.
Astrology shows up at the end of Chapter 6, when a hairdresser advises her to read a (fictional) book called Get Off Your Cusp and Live! (Its author was named as Jeanne Vixon,” a clear riff on then-popular celebrity astrologer Jeane Dixon). Bombeck says her star sign is Pisces, then explains in Chapter 7 that Pisces is the most boring star sign in the whole world (p. 57-58):
Maybe I was just bitter, but it always seemed like other people got the good signs. Their horoscopes always read “Popularity and untold wealth will haunt you. There is no getting away from it. You are irresistible to every sign in the zodiac. Give in and enjoy.”
Not mine. It was always an ominous warning like “Watch your purse.” “Your high school acne was only in remission, and will return the fifteenth of the month.” “Don’t become discouraged by your friends who will take advantage of you.”
But she was wrong.
The most boring star sign in the world is Capricorn.
A single Capricorn horoscope can depress an entire rave party. For years when I was younger and actually read horoscope columns, I regularly wondered why astrologists hated Capricorns so much that they couldn’t bear to give us even one moment of fun or excitement.
So while Aquarius and Scorpio women were out ensorcelling the world, having fun, and luxuriating in glamour, Capricorn women could look forward to finally alphabetizing their sock drawers. Hooray for us!
The Forer Effect, Magnified in Astrology.
A lot of people accept astrology predictions because of the Forer effect. When people encounter descriptions of themselves that they believe were tailored to them personally, they tend to think those descriptions are extremely accurate. They ignore the bits of the description that don’t really apply and vastly magnify the parts that kinda do — while not noticing that most of the descriptions are pretty universal.
(Example: “You may seem outgoing a lot of the time, but you can feel insecure as well.” Many years ago, I used to use this exact description to show people how ridiculous astrology was. Almost every time, the person I said it to was all omg that is so me. In reality, I didn’t know the person well at all.)
Repeated experiments have confirmed the truth of the Forer effect. We even have a good idea of how to get higher accuracy ratings for these descriptions:
- Tell subjects that the description only applies to them and them alone.
- Set up the creator of the descriptions as a believable authority.
- Make sure to list mainly positive things in the description.
- Put the individual recipient’s name into the description somehow to push harder on the idea that this is a personalized description.
Horoscopes fit well into this list. By using “star signs,” astrologers give their fans the feeling that the predictions listed under “their” star sign are highly applicable to them — and not the people in the other 11 signs. The writers of these horoscopes set themselves up as knowledgeable experts. And they tend to really talk up positive traits.
How I Once Forer’d Myself With Astrology.
As I mentioned, though, Capricorn was always presented as such a stultifying type of person that I just couldn’t accept it. I didn’t understand why Capricorn horoscopes were always the dead opposite of what I had going on at that time. Back then, I was traveling around the continent, having the time of my life, trying to heal, making friends, the whole nine yards. For most of that time, I didn’t even have a sock drawer to alphabetize, much less enough socks to make that endeavor meaningful in the first place.
About 5 years post-deconversion (and far from unpacking that trauma), I moved to a small town in Kansas. There, someone in my social group discovered that the local community-college bookstore had these huge horoscope workbooks. They were these 8.5″x11″ perfect-bound books, one for each sign of the zodiac I think, and they were much thicker than one would imagine such books could be. I have no idea what class at the college used books like these! But my group got really interested in them.
So one day, I borrowed the Capricorn book from a fellow Capricorn friend (who was as mystified as I was by our dull, dreary horoscopes). With it in hand, I set to work figuring out all the ins and outs of my star sign. Let me tell you, there were a lot of ins and outs. Holy cow.
When I finished, I was just astonished! OMG! When I figured in my moon and rising sign and all that other stuff, suddenly the modified picture looked exactly like me! The reason Capricorn horoscopes had never made sense was that I had to look at this other one because these extra details had totally changed the picture!
Y’all! The super-exciting horoscopes were mine all along!
Yes, everyone, I’d completely Forer’d myself into believing in astrology for a hot minute. Don’t worry. I wised up soon enough.
The Vastly Easier Way to Make Boring Astrological Signs Exciting.
That said, Capricorn horoscopes continued to look boring and dreary. I’d look at them, sure, but then my eyes would slide across to that other, way more exciting horoscope I’d identified as the scare-quotes “real” one. That one was really mine, I’d say, because of [insert astrology blahblah here].
But it looks like maybe astrologers have hit upon a different strategy. Instead of demanding all that extra effort to modify a horoscope sign, they just write all of the signs to sound about the same in terms of levels of excitement. Yes, this even includes poor Capricorn.
First, I noticed this story in The Sun. Somehow, they made all the signs sound almost identical. Everyone’s working too hard and potentially neglecting their romantic partners! Even red-hot Scorpio is having serious bickering problems. Free-wheeling Aquarius needs to sit down and have serious discussions about the future. And Capricorn is mono-focusing as usual.
But it can go in the other direction as well. Once I began noticing this trend, I saw it in lots of places. For example, today’s Capricorn horoscope at astrology.com makes people in my sign sound like playful, creative, romantic people. Check this out:
Childlike and swirling with enthusiasm, you can’t help but feel emotionally driven by your heart, but there’s more.
Oooh! Who wouldn’t like to hear that?
Take that, Scorpio!
A Resurgence of Interest in Astrology.
A lot of people believe stuff that just isn’t factually true. Why not add some astrology to the mix? Indeed, it sounds like astrology is enjoying a bit of a heyday, these past few years. According to this Columbia University site, otherwise fairly-rational people are buying into this age-old bunkum. In 2019, New Yorker laid the resurgence in astrology at the feet of Millennials — a whole bunch of Millennials. The article said:
Astrology is currently enjoying a broad cultural acceptance that hasn’t been seen since the nineteen-seventies.
In 2018, Pew Research discovered that a lot of Christians believe in all kinds of New Age ideas. Depending on how well you know evangelicals, you will either be surprised or utterly unsurprised to learn that 18% of Pew’s evangelical respondents said they believed in astrology.
I can see why. Evangelicals already buy into magical thinking. When I Forer’d myself into believing in astrology, I still hadn’t unpacked magical claims and didn’t know how to assess them — so I still bought into magic. If someone’s not completely aware of the Forer effect and is willing to set aside whatever critical-thinking skills they have for magical claims anyway, astrology can pack a psychological wallop.
I just think it’s funny that the people pushing astrology products have shifted their product around to appeal better to today’s astrology customers. I’ve no idea when this shift occurred, but it’s hilarious that it did. Could anything else speak so loudly to the hilarious fakeness of this industry? To it being utterly made-up?
Today, Lord Snow Presides over a market shift that had to happen — to the delight of Capricorns everywhere.
NEXT UP: How evangelicals destroy their own witness by mistreating single moms. See you tomorrow!
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About Lord Snow Presides (LSP)
Lord Snow Presides is our off-topic weekly chat series. Lord Snow was my very sweet white cat. He actually knew quite a bit. Though he’s passed on, he now presides over a suggested topic for the day. Of course, please feel free to chime in with anything on your mind: there’s no official topic on these days. We especially welcome pet pictures!
Last thoughts: I had to dig out my copy of that Erma Bombeck book (relink) to get the quote correct. I’m glad I did. For some reason, I’d always thought she was a Capricorn from the way she talked about the topic. But no, she was a Pisces and said so in her book. Even in my younger days, I didn’t think Pisces sounded boring!
It’s funny, though, that Bombeck claimed in the same book to share a star sign with “Eva Braun (Hitler’s mistress), Judas Iscariot, and Anne Boleyn.” Eva Braun, born on February 6, 1912, was an Aquarius. Nobody actually knows the exact birthdate of the other two — or if Judas Iscariot even existed. It’s strange that I didn’t even notice any of this stuff until now. Anyway, it’s a funny book if you like Erma Bombeck, though younger readers might not get all the 60s and 70s-era cultural humor.