Sometimes, when I’m feeling rich and getting sick of cutting my own hair, I go to the hairdresser. In order to avoid the awkwardness that naturally results from the experience of a total stranger touching your head while you stare back at them from the mirror, I flick through the glossy magazines piled up in front of me. Which famous couple’s marriage is on the rocks? Who’s piled on a few extra pounds and dared to bare all at the beach? Finally, after I’ve read about every wobbly Z-list celebrity at least twice, and the hairdresser is yanking my head upward while sweetly asking me where I went on my last vacation, I turn to the horoscopes. Pluto is lined up with Venus! Avoid a hasty commitment this week, it advises, and you will be rewarded in the long run. Use your time in a practical manner, it helpfully recommends. Thanks, I will. Thankfully, it didn’t tell me not to be snide. Phew. I love being snide.
As a Gemini, I’m the life and soul of every party. I crave change and adventure. I love to roam aimlessly. I get bored very easily, however, which means I do not have the attention span to fully complete tasks — is that a puppy? I am not in any way responsible or dependable. Only people who fall under the signs of Libra, Leo or Aries will make good partners for me, as they can “balance my energy,” perhaps by throwing a ball for me to fetch, and preventing me from roaming, presumably using some kind of pre-arranged whistle signal. All Geminis, without exception, enjoy “music, magazines, books, music, blogs, chats with nearly anyone and short trips around town.” How on earth did they know I like all of those highly specific and individual things? That’s just creepy.
Afriend of mine likes to totally disregard any negative elements of her horoscope and latch on to anything positive that seems relevant to her life. Horoscopes try to identify with as many people as possible by being so vague that their elusive predictions can be applied to almost anyone in practically any situation. There are some people who swear that their horoscopes are consistently and even eerily accurate to their lives — but we see in them whatever we want to see. It would be more accurate to say that the general experience of life is expressed and regurgitated in a variety of different ways in every single horoscope ever written. We all face big decisions at work, experience changes in our relationships, encounter situations in which we need to compromise or feel the urge to try new things, to list some typical tropes of your average horoscope.
The Zodiac traces its roots to Ancient Egypt. Astrologers divide the sky into 12 divisions, representing the 12 lunar cycles. Each division is named for a constellation within it — the signs of the zodiac — and the position of the moon and the sun within these divisions is said to influence what happens on Earth. Signs are assigned to corresponding chunks of the calendar year, so if you’re born at a certain time, you’re born “under” that sign. Logically, the alignment of the stars at the time of your birth cannot possibly have any influence on your life, but the psychologist Carl Jung begged to differ. “We are born at a given moment, in a given place, and we have, like the best wines, the quality of the year and the season which witness our birth,” he wrote.
However, a recent horoscope of mine read “let the good times roll when the Moon sexiles Jupiter tonight.” Clearly a fine example of hard-nosed science. Astrology, like alchemy, originated over two thousand years ago, and was originally thought to be genuinely scientific. Today, alchemy forms part of the roots of modern chemistry, but no one claims that we can make gold. Astrology, however, bafflingly continues to exist, not to be confused with the legitimate science of the stars, astronomy.
So why on earth do we continue to read horoscopes? As phony as any intelligent person must know horoscopes to be, the fact that they remain so popular reveals an aspect of our human nature. Ultimately, there would be something very comforting about horoscopes if they weren’t so utterly ridiculous. We all long to control the unknown future — it’s why we make detailed plans and lists and mark dates in calendars, when we cannot know what will actually happen on the day we’ve circled. Taking comfort from the idea that some higher power has some control over our lives is a basic tenet of most world religions. Even though we know that horoscopes are usually written by the lowest-ranking employee of the magazine we’re reading, we suspend our disbelief just for a moment, so we can imagine that maybe we will get that promotion or lock eyes with a tall, dark and handsome stranger.
“Today, you will nourish what you have in progress.” Fortified with this unique knowledge and a new haircut, I’m ready to go out and take on the world. After all, I am the life and soul of every party — and with great power comes great responsibility.