Who doesn’t love a good horoscope to help guide you through your day, or through big life choices like careers and relationships? Apparently scientists.
I’m sure I’m not alone in admitting that I’ve read my horoscope countless times over the years, in print or online, with varying degrees of interest and playful suspension of disbelief. For decades, horoscopes have been a staple of mass markets newspapers and magazines.
And is there a bigger cliche in the dating world than the “what’s your sign” pickup line? Many of us know the “star signs” of our family, most of our close friends and even celebrities, and are familiar, if only vaguely, with the attributes of each Zodiac sign. Tauruses are stubborn (even better, “bull-headed”!) and Geminis are multi-faceted (or two-faced!), and so on. Astrology, Zodiac signs, and our daily or monthly horoscopes are a beloved part of our culture, media and interpersonal banter.
Admittedly, our own Faze Magazine, had a popular Horoscopes section when in print (did we mention Faze had, for a while, the third largest circulation in the country!) And they can be a lot of fun, especially to share and compare, although there are definitely a lot of people out there who take them very seriously.
What exactly is “astrology”?
Well, at its root, “astrology” simply means “the study of stars” (the word combines Greek astron “star” and logia “study of”). The similar term “astronomy” means “the classifying of the stars”. While similar and previously somewhat interchangeable, astrology generally meant the study of stars, and the cosmos, in terms of how they affected life here on earth, explanations and predictions of events and people’s lives. Astronomy was the pursuit of the geek crowd of their time, more interested in the theory and cataloguing of those same stars without regard for their supposed impact on humans.
While astrology has been proven to be in use as far back as 4000 years ago, it’s likely early primitive humans were looking up to the stars for countless millennial before that and believing those many dots of light in the night sky, as well as the sun and moon, had at least some connection to their lives.
Ancient Hindu, Chinese and completely unconnected Mayan cultures made incredibly accurate observations of celestial objects, and could predict their movements (e.g. eclipses, planetary cycles) with a precision that was only replicated in some cases in the modern era of science and mathematics.
The most widespread system of astrology grew out of ancient Mesopotamia around 2000 BCE and spread widely, along with agriculture, technology and culture commonly associated with Western civilization. Known as “Western” astrology, it dominated the Greek, Roman and Arab worlds and the cultures that followed in those vast empires.
The key premise of Western astrology is everything in the cosmos and here on Earth are tightly interconnected, and the movement of the celestial bodies will determine outcomes here on earth. The movements of those celestial bodies (sun, moon, planets, even comets) are tracked using a “zodiac”, a circular map of the sky divided into segments (eventually twelve), named for the various constellations appearing in the night sky. The constellations (literally a “a togetherness of stars”) sometimes had different names in different cultures, but often they were seen as images of animals (think Bull, Scorpion, Lion, Fish), and “zodiac” in Greek means “a circle of little animals”.
The evolution of the horoscope
One’s birthday or the date of an event must viewed in terms of the celestial bodies’ alignment and movement. This reading of the stars on that date provides a “horoscope”, which means an “observation of the hour” and fates of people, armies, nations were supposedly set as a result. The entire goal of astrologers was to figure out what the stars’ alignment on the date actually meant, in order to predict, advise and warn anyone who cared to listen (and hopefully pay them for the service).
From numerous astrological traditions and interpretation systems, in the modern day we’ve ended up with a very simplified version known as “sun sign astrology”. It’s the version we’ve been reading in newspapers, magazines and now online and on apps, for almost 90 years. Again, it divides the zodiac into twelve “signs” and assigns everyone to one of those signs based on birth date. From there, modern astrologers take into consideration moon, and planetary movement to suggest trends that apply to each of the twelve groups of people.
Modern horoscope are clearly simplified to ignore your year of birth, or the day with the zodiac sign you were born. A British newspaper editor in 1930 came up with the idea to feature a horoscope predicting of the life of newly-born Princess Margaret to sell more papers (clickbait was clearly alive and well a century ago). It was instantly popular and the astrologer who wrote it was soon asked to produce a regular column in the paper, and personally developed the simplified, column friendly sign-sun method. Its runaway success spawned countless imitators that have flourished up to today.
Should we take horoscopes seriously, or just have fun with them?
In short, yes, have fun with horoscopes, particularly in their current pop-culture form. Even a serious believer in the concept of celestial bodies impacting their life choices has to see that the modern art of over-simplified “horoscoping” has become a playful game designed to attract bored eyeballs to newspaper columns and apps.
Interestingly, however, it appears more millennials are into horoscopes than that other YOLO generation, the 1960s’ so-called hippy generation. One theory is that as millennials become less interested in traditional religions, a desire remains to have some sense of purpose and direction, even spiritual direction. Horoscopes perhaps address that need in a way that is non-committal, personalized, free and easy to access on one’s own.
Put to the test – what does the science say?
Countless studies have been done to determine the validity of modern astrology. For now, we’ll let this excellent video give an quick overview of what the science is telling us…
Laci Green does a great job breaking down horoscopes, as in demolishing them: