Christensen: ‘Silly’ astrology can promote introspection

By Caitlyn Christensen

I like to think I’m not a superstitious person. It makes me sound practical. But open my… I like to think I’m not a superstitious person. It makes me sound practical. But open my personalized homepage any given day of the week, and instead of news headlines or weather forecasts, you’ll find three horoscopes: one for love, one for every Aquarius and one personalized by my exact birthday.

I know what you’re thinking: There’s no way my horoscopes come true every day. You would be right. My love horoscope is boundless with its relationship advice — although for what relationship, I don’t know — and my other horoscopes are always exceptionally vague, suggesting that I “follow my star” and “put faith in my intuition.” Dangerously, it often suggests that I “listen to my heart and not my head”  a convenient excuse for lying in bed and spending six hours watching “30 Rock” instead of, you know, doing my homework or something. If my heart and my horoscope told me to do it, I can’t be held responsible. It’s destiny or something, right?

Even though both my head and heart tell me that my horoscope is full of lies — I mean, sometimes the predictions are even misspelled — I keep reading each day, and not just because it’s entertaining. At most I might only half-believe it, but I read them because astrology creates the perception that I am a part of great forces in the universe, forces that operate like clockwork. There’s less gray area than in religion because morality doesn’t come into play — there’s no “wrong” sign to be and no penalties for questioning its accuracy. It’s a nice little safety blanket under which it’s impossible to do wrong.

Astrology began with the Babylonians and was later taken up by the Greeks, who passed it on to Baghdad and Damascus. It lost its appeal for most of the world during the Scientific Revolution but continued to thrive in India, where some still believe auspicious signs to be necessary before making important life decisions such as getting married. The 20th century saw a rekindling of interest in astrology — more self-indulgent than serious.

Unscientific and self-indulgent as it might be, astrologers are still employed. People like to read their horoscopes for the reassuring hints of destiny and character — which, as Daniel Cohen observed in the Chicago Tribune in 1968, is glorifying: “Who can object to a flattering description of themselves? One astrologer told me that under my hard exterior I was a sensitive person. How was I to refute a statement like that? Could I say, ‘No, I am really a hardheaded clod’?”

Astrology is so vague that it points out characteristics that are more or less present in most people — things like having a shell at times or liking certain amounts of attention from others. For instance, as an Aquarius, some of my traits include creativity and a strong attachment to my friends. Because I like these traits, I am more than willing to recognize them in myself, even though it’s perfectly human to be a loyal friend, and almost everyone on the planet is more or less a creative thinker in some capacity. Whether I capitalize on these traits more because I know I’m supposed to have them is another question — which came first, the zodiac sign or the character trait?

Either way, I’m attracted to astrology because it encourages us to recognize qualities within ourselves we would be less aware of without some sort of medium to illuminate them.

Surely, it’s too New Age-y to say that our personalities or destinies are contrived by the planets or by the signs we’re born under. But I like to read my horoscope because it encourages me to examine my day and look for signs connecting me to some larger order — even if it’s just the larger human order. It’s the same reason I like to read books or listen to music. Sharing in an experience — a fictional character’s plot line or an Aquarius’ personality traits — keeps me from feeling alone and lets me know that there are others out there like me. Whether or not that’s because we were born under the same sign is debatable.

So I think that believing too much in astrology is silly. I mean, predetermination in most capacities just turns out to be a convenient excuse, a way to avoid the effort of further investigation. But where’s the harm in a little daily introspection?

Write Caitlyn at [email protected]