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What’s your sign? The resurgence of astrology and what’s behind it

While various reports inform that young people around the world are less and less religious (with Poland experiencing the biggest generational gap in religiosity among all countries surveyed by the Pew Research Center), there is an undeniable increase of interest in astrology unseen since the 1970s. If you are a woman in her 20s, chances are YouTube algorithms will chase you up with recommendations on videos entitled ‘beyoncé being a virgo for 10 minutes straight’ (1.9 million views) or ‘celebrities being true to their zodiac signs’ (2.6 million views). On Instagram, astrology-related meme culture is thriving, with accounts such as @glossy_zodiac amassing an impressive number of 4.9 million followers. There is definitely something going on. And the only question to ask is - why?

The scientific side of astrology

Let’s start with the facts. Astrology used to be a science that studied meteorology, alchemy, and astronomy, to name a few. It may seem obvious, but it is crucial to remember that astrology and astronomy are two very different things. Although, there is a connection found between them. For instance, the number of astrologers from ancient Babylonia who knew about astronomy was quite impressive, especially when taking into consideration their times (2nd millennium BC). Astrology was also used in medicine. According to Dr Lauren Kassell, philosophy of science lecturer at the University of Cambridge, the holistic approach of the 17th-century medical astrologers is something modern medicine is trying to embrace today as well. It was only during the Enlightenment period when astrology started to lose its appeal. However, it has never fully disappeared, even among the scientific community in the centuries that followed. Most notably, Carl Jung (1875-1961), a famous psychoanalyst and psychiatrist, used astrology in his work on archetypal personalities.

One could say that the very basic premise of astrology is this: when you are born affects who you are. Literally, the stars align to determine your whole life. Dr Russell Foster, a circadian neuroscientist at the University of Oxford, claims that it is not an entirely ludicrous or unscientific idea. ‘There is absolutely a statistical impact on when you were born on a whole range of different parameters,’ he says. For example, schizophrenia is more common among people born in January, February, and March, while alcohol abuse is more common among people born between March and July. According to Dr Foster, it could be due to changes in your mother’s physiology depending on what time of the year you were conceived. Well, it is hard to argue with statistics. But astrology insists on having a deeper meaning than the timing of birth that influences your life, including biological processes. It attaches a magical element to it. But could our biology have been written in the stars? Was my flight delayed, and did I fall out with my friend because Mercury was in retrograde?

Is astrology real or are we just anxious?

The science backing up some astrological claims does exist. A 2014 National Science Board in America found that a mere 42% of the youngest respondents (18-24 years old) believed that astrology is ‘not at all scientific,’ meaning more than half of young Americans think it is at least any kind of scientific. We often hear about millennials and zoomers being significantly more stressed and depressed than previous generations. And there is a correlation between high levels of stress and the likelihood of engaging with astrology. A 1982 study by Dr Graham Tyson, a psychologist from the University of Witwatersrand, and a 2021 study by De La Salle University scholars came to this conclusion. Turning to higher powers in moments of crisis is nothing new or inherently bad.

The old Polish adage, ‘Jak trwoga, to do Boga’ (which can be translated to ‘when in fear, God is near’) means that some people only remember God and prayer when they experience some adversities. It expresses a universal truth about human nature. When we feel helpless, sometimes religion or magic may seem like our last resort. However, astrology is becoming something more than someone’s last resort; it is becoming a part of people’s everyday lives.

It could be argued that the recent resurgence and dare I say, normalisation of astrology is a by-product of our fixation on all things wellness. Be it reading another self-help book that is meant to show you ‘how to get your life together’ or buying healing crystals that are meant to ‘increase your feeling of tranquillity.’ While it is understandable that people are looking for ways to deal with stress and anxiety by turning to self-help books, life coaches, and therapists, how can we explain the mystical element introduced by the healing crystals frenzy and astrology revival?

‘Astrology allows us to commune with mystery, and that is enticing,’ says Dr Zuzanna Grębecka, a cultural studies scholar at the University of Warsaw. Additionally, according to Dr Monisha Pasupathi, a developmental psychologist at the University of Utah, humans are narrative creatures. We just like to understand the events from our lives as part of some grand story. That is also why most countries have their foundational myths. As humans, we crave explanations for what seems to be natural or inexplicable.

The good, the bad, and the memes

Internet opinion pieces about astrology, even when sceptical about the whole phenomenon, sometimes try to defend it in an attempt to provide a more balanced argument. They say that astrology might help you with defining your problems or worries. It might be useful in reflecting on your relationships and surroundings. And finally, it can help you become more proactive – ‘The Sun moves into Gemini – this week should be an ideal time to make a big move!’ Sure, maybe some people need this type of external encouragement, but is deriving it from an astrology app a healthy practice? Paying for a tarot reading session instead of a therapy session (especially when the latter is needed) is not a good idea, to put it quite plainly. An even worse idea, however, is going to a modern-day medical astrologer rather than to an actual doctor – and it is something that happens and is being encouraged on various websites centred around wellbeing.

Not so long ago, if you were not into astrology, one of the only encounters you could have with it was via a horoscope section found on the last few pages of a teen magazine. Today, thanks to the Internet, knowledge about astrology has become widely accessible. And most importantly, there seems to not be much stigma around openly believing in what used to be somewhat naive in the pre-Internet era.

Social media have put astrology into the spotlight, and stereotypes about zodiac signs are now one of the most prolific inspirations for memes. It makes sense. Memes, i.e. something that depends on mental shortcuts, seem like a perfect medium for disseminating information about zodiac signs. Some astrologers wholeheartedly support this trend. After all, it creates a new demographic as their potential clientele. Others are more critical and see astrology memes as reductive and undermining the seriousness of their profession.

Love it or hate it, the astrology boom does not seem to be going away anytime soon. But to claim that it should be something more than a meme is simply delusional.

Marta Wójtowicz

Graduated from Lancaster University in Media and Cultural Studies. Currently completing a Master’s in Visual Culture at Durham University. Her interests lie in cultural sociology, ranging from art and religion to film and social media. In her free time, she can be found cycling in the Trzebnickie Hills back in her native Lower Silesia or testing another language app to finally learn German and French.

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