Astrology doesn't need to be scientifically proven to be empowering — or feminist

Only a very insecure person takes the time to tear down belief systems that bring positivity into the world.
Illustration of woman's face looking serene while an astrological chart hovers above her.
Would astrology be as polarizing if it were something that men were primarily interested in?Jackie Ferrentino / for NBC News
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By Tanya Ghahremani

I was recently on a first date with a man who laughed in my face when I told him that I covered astrology as a writer and an editor — before he realized that I was serious, of course. Then he asked if I “really believed in that stuff.”

The date didn’t end well.

But it wasn’t the first time my interest — personally and professionally — in the topic has resulted in snark. Astrology is a fixture of the daily pop cultural landscape now, and it is very much here to stay. Daily, weekly and monthly horoscopes live at the top of major websites’ front pages — The Cut does a great one, for the record — and apps like Co-Star and The Pattern are used by everyone from your roommate to Channing Tatum. Even popular shoe brands are releasing astrology-inspired lines. Simply put: This is the dawning of the age of the birth chart.

Even popular shoe brands are releasing astrology-inspired lines. Simply put: This is the dawning of the age of the birth chart.

The think pieces about the millennial astrology obsession have also begun rolling in, as they’re wont to do in the internet age. In January 2018, The Atlantic ran a piece titled “The New Age of Astrology,” breaking down the zodiac obsession; in July, The Los Angeles Times published “How millennials replaced religion with astrology and crystals,” which posited that millennials had begun to worship crystals instead of any established god; in October, the New Yorker published “Astrology in the Age of Uncertainty,” chronicling the overlap between millennials who believe in science and those who believe in astrology; and in March, The New York Times published a piece about Mercury retrograde, signaling to our parents that the stuff their millennial kids have been blathering on about is officially here to stay.

It’s pretty clear that, at least for now, astrology has a place in popular culture. And it’s also easy to see why: We currently live in an insecure world. Parts of America are literally burning down while others are figuratively in flames.

In the midst of this physical, political and emotional turmoil, astrology offers us a sense of purpose. It provides reasons for why the world is spinning as well as hope that it will be less nauseating tomorrow. And, often within daily horoscopes, it encourages us to look within to find strength.

The majority of people who consume astrology content are women, which is also not all that surprising. For one thing, astrology has always had feminist roots and icons. It empowers women in particular to take more control over their future; it encourages us to learn more about ourselves and go confidently in the direction that makes the most sense for our well being. Sure, it’s not a proven science. But much like other kinds of spiritual and religious faith, it doesn’t have to be to make a difference in the lives of those who believe in it.

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Astrologers Stella Starsky and Quinn Cox, authors of “Sextrology: The Astrology of Sex and the Sexes” and “Cosmic Coupling: The Sextrology of Relationships,” tell their clients that happiness isn’t always the end goal — fulfillment is.

“We can say ‘be your best,’ or ‘new year, new you’ or ‘living your best life,’” Starsky tells me. “But honestly, this is one way — and a valid way, and a very effective way — of digging really deep and coming out with some genuine tools to live more authentically.”

It’s not a proven science. But much like other kinds of spiritual and religious faith, it doesn’t have to be to make a difference in the lives of those who believe in it.

But the needs of their clients have changed, too. Whereas 15 years ago, clients wanted to know if they were going to help me find love, Cox said, now “there's an understanding that we will help you find yourself and thereby attract to you the best situation for you.”

Cox says he’s also seen a shift toward clients' “owning their own power,” rather than looking outward for it.

This all sounds pretty good. And I may be biased, but I’ve never understood why, for all its positives, astrology still elicits negative reactions like the one I experienced from my wannabe date. For every positive think piece about the phenomenon, there’s also a negative one. As far back as 2011, a widely cited Discover magazine piece proclaimed, “The less intelligent more likely to accept astrology as scientific."

Starsky tells me that though astrology is beginning to be seen as a more serious pursuit, it’s “always been considered alternative,” she says. “The understanding of astrology is changing as we become more interested in empowerment and also more individualistic as a society. In some ways that's an asset, in some ways it's a liability. But I think that connects a lot to why astrology is being seen as a more serious pursuit and as another tool for some understanding for how to develop oneself.”

Cox adds, “We forget that astrology was one of the sort of main disciplines when they first started universities because it wasn't divorced from astronomy.”

This changed in the 18th century, he says, with the age of Enlightenment. Prior to that, it was very much believed that astrology had a real effect on our lives.

Susie Cox, who has worked with celebrities, royals, politicians and business leaders, notes that public opinion about astrology wasn’t always this divided.

Susie Cox, who has been practicing astrology since 1971 and has worked with celebrities, royals, politicians and business leaders, also notes that public opinion about astrology wasn’t always this divided. “My background is in astronomy,” she tells me. “The interesting thing is that there weren't even any astronomers before the 1700s, all of the sky was run by astrologers. Nobody really says that when they're talking about the history of astrology.”

But times are certainly different now. She remembers in university how an astronomer friend would always insist they meet at a coffee shop. “Finally, I was like, why are we meeting at this weird little coffee shop? And he looked around, and then he whispered to me, ‘If they even knew that I was associating with you, I would be fired immediately.””

They never met again, Cox notes, and now he's an astronomer at the University of Arizona.

Astrology seems to exist a bit at the extremes. You either love it or you hate it; you brush it off as a pseudoscience or you believe in its power.

Straight men in particular seem to dislike astrology. Would astrology be as polarizing of a topic if it were something that men were primarily interested in? Difficult to say, but it’s hard to ignore that many of the things young women do to make their lives and the lives of those around them better are often mocked. Historically, America has always loved to hate the things young women love.

Ultimately, astrology doesn’t need to be scientifically proven to have a positive influence on anyone’s lives — just like religion doesn’t need to be to do so. If believing in horoscopes and planetary movements and crystals is empowering for certain communities, godspeed. Only a very insecure person takes the time to tear down belief systems that bring positivity into the world.

And by the way, if your horoscope doesn’t fit your sign, there is good reason for that. Astrology is not one-size-fits-all. That’s why apps like Co-Star and The Pattern are so successful, and why sites like Cosmopolitan are doing deep dives into presidential candidates’ birth charts. The most serious astrologers will tell you that a complete picture can only be built when all available information is taken into account, including zodiac signs, planetary positions, houses, alignments and all.

If you really dislike astrology because you just simply dislike astrology — that’s fine. But don’t be a condescending bully about it. As the L.A. Times posited in its article, how is it different, really, than someone who worships in a church or synagogue? We have no problem with you conferring with your chosen god — we just prefer star charts.