If you’ve been on the internet anytime within the past five years, then there’s no way you’ve avoided hearing someone say “Mercury’s in retrograde” or “I went on a date with this guy but our signs aren’t compatible.” Horoscopes and astrology have violently infiltrated modern-day culture from out of thin air, and like the flu at the beginning of the school year, it just won’t go away. I don’t remember when I first saw the explosion of astrological jargon and symbols on my discover page on Instagram, and I certainly haven’t had the chance to question why so many people have bought into it until now. Why has it made its controversial return? Can we call it a comeback? Does anyone actually believe in it unironically? Is it all just a distraction imposed by the government to avert our gaze from the impending hunger war?
A quick disclaimer: I’m 18 years old. This means I grew up with the prevalence of social media, so I have little experience with horoscopes in print media, like in the trades or Sunday paper. Some people probably checked their daily horoscope without the ease of technology, but not anyone I know. Maybe it’s not really a comeback so much as it is proof of how we only know what we see, and right now, we only see anything that’s on social media.
Nobody knows exactly where astrology came from, but turning to the stars has always been a common practice for civilizations to explain the purpose of our existence and guide them throughout life. Some societies attributed the state of the stars to explain the bad times their civilization was having, others as a calendar or a compass. Up until science showed us that stars are just exploding balls of gas, we used the stars to survive and answer the timeless question of “Why are we here?” In a sense, we still use astrology to do this.
The Greeks, Babylonians and Romans are credited with making the 12 signs we know today: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces. They were based off of when it seemed like the sun passed through each respective constellation, and most of the constellations represented cute little animals, which is where most of the symbols come from — except for Libra, which has a scale as its symbol that makes it difficult for companies to market on t-shirts and phone cases.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why this belief system died down, but it’s easy to make a few educated guesses. At some point throughout humanity’s short history, the civilizations that developed this belief system died out, science and experimentation became a more popular method of explaining the way the world is, and Christian belief systems became a fashionable and sometimes mandatory belief system. Christianity also isn’t exactly a big fan of astrology.
Let’s get into the dissection of astrology’s miraculous comeback. Ever since “modern” social media came around in circa 2004 (Facebook and Instagram), astrology has been unavoidable and admittedly, tempting to buy into. Hundreds of social media accounts are dedicated to pumping out half-assed, vague and sometimes contradictory daily horoscopes, yet still manage to earn millions of followers. If you’re a cynic, you’ll wonder who’s following these stupid accounts that claim to predict what your lucky days are each month and categorize what the perfect break-up song is for each sign. But if you’re someone like me, who at some point in early high school bought into these accounts, you’ll kind of get it. And if you’re feeling kind of brave, you’d be willing to explain the temptation with a necessary amount of shame.
Since everything is so accessible, once you go down the horoscope path, the natural next step is to download an app like Co—star, which has a 4.9 rating (out of 65.8k ratings) on the App Store. Although I’ve never used it, the fact that it claims to be “powered by AI that merges NASA data with the insight of human astrologers” on its about page makes it appear credible and more powerful than it really is. You’re asked to enter your birth date, time and place so the app can find the exact alignment the stars were in when you were born to develop a comprehensive astrological profile. It’s oddly specific, and an issue regarding occasionally creepy push notifications has gained attention for the app, as it would send “day at a glance” pushes that said alarming things like “your nervous energy won’t be especially useful today.” Using artificial intelligence to cater to individual needs helps the messages seem targeted toward personal issues, which can be an issue for the impressionable who might use the app to decide the course of their day.
That’s why astrology is especially tempting to teenagers. Let’s say you’re a young, undeveloped, middle-to-high schooler, and you’re at the peak of teenage angst. If you have social media, what are you going to use it for apart from an unhealthy standard of comparison? That’s where the discover page comes into play. If the algorithm’s doing its job right, a zodiac post will pop up and you’ll think “that’s exactly like me.” From there, you’ll spiral into a rabbit hole of relatable posts and zodiac horoscopes. I certainly remember a time where I would screenshot horoscope posts that talk about how stubborn Tauruses are and send it to my Taurus friend when she was willfully ignoring my advice, mostly jokingly, but also to be like, “See? Even the horoscope thinks so.”
But I think the most curious thing to see is the millennial generation (who technically range from 23 to around 38 now) really believe in astrology and incorporate it into their everyday life. The cynic in me has a tendency to believe that these “full-grown” adults have an external locus of control and use astrology to avoid taking accountability in their everyday life. After all, how easy is it to say that you and your significant other broke up because you’re an Aries and they’re a Capricorn? Or that your upper 20s were tumultuous and destructive because it was time for Saturn’s return? It can make bad events make seem more palatable, but it can also give people an excuse to be destructive and avoidant. If you’re a cynic, then astrology seems like a way out. But we’re not here to be cynical. Like astrology, we’re here to search for explanations.
There are belief systems everywhere that we use to grasp universal phenomena, because we have a need to know. A need to know if the earth revolves around the sun or vice versa, a need to know that we’re never really touching anything because our atoms are just vibrating against each other, a need to know why ice cream just tastes so good when you’re sad. You can probably find scientific evidence for any one of these things, but even science, like all belief systems, can be inaccurate. Maybe science has a stronger basis in facts and research, but there’s so many times that this “evidence” has been disproven, corrupt or biased. So if you think about it like that, then believing in astrology doesn’t seem all that crazy.
Zodiacs have simply come back at the perfect time, a time where relatable content and “Which type of bread are you?” quizzes have hit peak pop culture. We’re in an era of categorization — a time when people yearn to be part of a group and hear more about who they are and who they could be. It helps us feel less alone, less like confused specks in a sea of change and humanity. It can go too far, but in moderation, astrology isn’t so bad. If your friend refuses to leave the house because her horoscope isn’t good, then it’s gone a bit too far. But otherwise, scroll away. And be careful — the next Mercury retrograde is from Oct. 31 to Nov. 20.