Astrology is still a hit
Chances are that at some point in your life you’ve been asked, “What’s your sign?” That phrase is both a terrible pickup line and proof that astrology is still a big thing in popular culture. And the most popular manifestation of astrology? The horoscope.
Open up almost any newspaper in the country, and you’re likely to find your daily, weekly, or monthly horoscope. Yet not all astrologers are fans of this condensed, snappy version of astrology - they feel that outlining a person’s fate requires more than a few short sentences horoscopes are known for. Yet the newspapers keep printing horoscopes, and people keep flipping through newspapers just to get to them.
Horoscopes for the miserable
When I worked at my college newspaper, there were always empty pages to fill. Every week, we had a choice to make: sudoku or crossword puzzles, crossword puzzles or sudoku? Then one night, I looked out at the night sky, and then turned to my computer screen. I spent roughly twenty minutes learning about sun signs, and began typing frantically. And so began my column, Horoscopes for the Miserable.
One of my horoscopes read, “Dearest Scorpia: According to the multi-universe theory, every time we make a decision, we create another universe. So next time you think about making a decision, you might want to decide not to.”
Zodiacs of Babylonia
For ages, people have looked to the heavens to understand the world. The first horoscope texts were discovered in ancient Babylonia, shortly after 500 BC when the idea of Zodiac symbols first emerged in Greece. One of the earliest horoscopes goes like this: “If a child is born when the Moon comes forth, his situation will be bright, good, stable, and long. If a child is born and Saturn comes forth, his situation will be dark, troubled, sick and constrained.”
Since then, horoscope writers - like myself - have continued to foretell future happiness and occasionally predict doom. And since then, astrologers like Nora Jean Stone have called baloney.
“Will sun sign horoscopes in magazines newspapers disappear? No. Do I know people hired to write for them who know nothing about astrology? Yes,” Stone said.
Stone, the Director of Publicity and Outreach for the San Francisco Astrological Society, is onto me -- and other accidental horoscope writers out there like me. She’s even doubtful of the actual astrologers who write horoscopes.
“When you're doing sun sign based horoscopes in publications...it's a matter of how much space are you going to give these articles, you know? It's usually a filler, it’s part of a page filler and it's not that deep,” Stone said.
The age of Jessica Lanyadoo
See, the signs many of us know by heart, like Geminis or Tauruses, are only based on the position of the sun. And that’s what most horoscope writers rely on. So, when astrologer Jessica Lanyadoo was asked to write a horoscope column, she was skeptical.
“It's schlocky. It's a schlocky practice. People have this idea of astrology and psychic and palm reading and it's all this big crystal ball, velvet hocky thing,” Lanyadoo said.
But she also saw horoscope columns as a way to connect with a wider audience.
“A well written sun sign horoscope can build a bridge between these people having these uneducated beliefs and doing research and knowing more,” Lanyadoo said.
A complicated machine
You don’t need to know anything about astrology to read a horoscope. That’s good, because astrology is one complicated machine. I asked Lanyadoo to explain the process of writing a horoscope.
“I mean, I have this process of looking at where all the planets are in the particular week from the constellation of Gemini in that case. Then I also bring in my intuition. That’s the spiritual side of how I come to the content,” Lanyadoo explained.
So, the sun, the moon, and the planets all travel along a set path. During their travels, they pass through 13 constellations. Gemini, Aries, Pisces, Sagittarius -- those are all examples of these constellations. Lanyadoo takes a look at where the planets falls within the constellation and in relation to other planets, interprets what she sees, and translates this information into a horoscope column. For example, one of Lanyadoo’s horoscopes reads: “Capricorn: The worst thing that you can do with this full moon in your sign is freak the f*ck out, Cappy.”
Another reads, “Aries. This month may light some fire under your a$$ and make you feel hecka entitled, so pace yourself wisely to avoid f*cking sh*t up, my love.”
Lanyadoo’s horoscopes now appear in Nasty Gal Magazine and on her own website. She’s been writing them for over a decade, but she still doesn’t see herself as a writer.
“People who are poets or writers...people who love writing might have a romantic sense of childbirth in some way and it's like pushing out and it's beautiful,” Lanyadoo said. “But I'm a woman who doesn't want to get birth. So the pushing it out is not super fun.”
Unlike Lanyadoo, horoscope writer Rob Brezsny loves to write. He approaches horoscopes like poetry. For him, astrology like poetry was another way to try and understand people.
A starving soul
“My soul was starving, and so I turned to music and I turned to astrology,” Brezsny said.
What Brezsny really wanted to be was a poet. So, he decided to write poetry sneakily disguised as horoscopes.
“Poetry most emphasizes the power of finding new ways to say things, new ways to see things, new ways to think about things,” Brezsny said.
“I'm continuously asking people to change what it is about themselves, to investigate something about themselves that makes them less tolerant of others. It's an incremental, bit by bit, look at yourself kind of medicine.”
A fable for a mother
Brezsny’s horoscopes are like bite sized fables -- the kind you have to sit down to read and dissect, slowly, word by word. I’ve been reading Brezsny’s horoscopes the past five years. When I forgot to get my mom a birthday gift this year, I decided to call her and read one of Brezsny’s horoscopes instead - hoping that it might lead to blissful self-discovery. Brezsny wrote for Leo’s that month, "What are the best things and the worst things in your life, and when are you going to get around to whispering or shouting them?"
There was silence on her end of the line. I kept going, “This question was posed by Leo author Ray Bradbury in his book Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity. Even if you're not a writer yourself, you will benefit from responding to his exhortation. It's one of the best things you could possibly do to activate your dormant creativity and intensify your lust for life.”
Well, she hadn’t hung up yet. And I had a feeling she was listening, closely. There was more to the horoscope, “This is one of those times when working with your extremes is not only safe and healthy, but also fun and inspirational.”
And then came the call to action, wrapped like a birthday gift with a tidy bow on top. I read on, “So do it, Leo! Get excited and expressive about the best and worst things in your life.
At this, my mom exclaimed, “It’s true! It’s true! I do need to get excited and expressive! How did you know?” I explained that Rob Brezsny knew, not me.