There’s a book on my shelf called Your Personal Horoscope 2017. Inside, there’s a glossary of astrological terms—grand trine, karma, retrogrades—followed by personality profiles, horoscopes, and month-by-month forecasts for each sign. The profile for your sun sign, the one that most people are familiar with, will tell you which sign you are most compatible with; particular colors that will promote love, romance, and social harmony in your life; and your strongest virtues. From the horoscopes, the heart of the book, you can learn what’s in store for your career this year or if you’ll encounter any health issues, among other predictions. (Although as author and top astrologer Joseph Polansky is careful to point out, he offers an astrological perspective on health, not a medical one.) The author writes encouragingly, more than willing to welcome neophytes into the world of astrology.
My friend, a Capricorn, gave me the book for my birthday last year—May 6th, which makes me a Taurus—because we had both developed an interest in astrology that was growing less ironic by the day.
It started with memes, the kind that assign each sign a different Parks and Recreation character or Bud Light ’Rita flavor. (For Tauruses: Ron Swanson and classic Lime.) I followed some of the popular young astrologers now amassing thousands of followers on Instagram and went online to find my birth chart, which tells you where the planets were in their journey around the sun at the time of your birth. Once you know how to interpret these positions, you can learn even more about the role of the stars in your life—or, more enticingly, their role in the life of your potential lover, whose birth time you’ve figured out from either a night of internet research or some gentle, totally lowkey prodding.
I love indulging in the particularity of birth charts—rising signs, moon signs, other planetary aspects. It’s good to feel understood, and at first, I was excited to have found a system to understand this messed up world a little bit more.
Now, I find some part of myself in every description of a Taurus—I am stubborn, patient, and decadent, all at once. My friend and I pore over our Cosmo horoscopes each week, matching up the predictions with important events, like dates with our almost-boyfriends. If Cosmo predicts “a renewed commitment to enjoying romance” for Tauruses, that means I’ll take a step, however small, toward defining my relationship this week. Never mind that I’d rather pull out my front teeth than broach the subject in person, or that our signs aren’t even compatible. And if Capricorns are supposed to “own their own calm,” my friend can go ahead and worry less about her physics midterm. With an open mind, every part of your horoscope can come true.
This is not unlike the interpretation of holy scriptures by priests, imams, and the like. I don’t think it would be remiss to say that astrology is the closest thing I have to a religion. I’m a confirmed Catholic, but Sister Gerri never managed to convince me of the power of prayer in Sunday school. I went to church through high school, but only because my parents wanted me to, and because I liked the ceremony of it.
Catholic Mass mostly consists of listening to people talk while alternating between kneeling and standing, and it gave me something to do with my awkward, overgrown limbs as a young teenager. I secretly loved the showy bouquets below the altar and the deep red color of the communion wine, bright spots of beauty in my sleepy suburban life.
But I don’t go to church anymore, and I only believe in God when I feel helpless—like if I’m on a wooden roller coaster, or if someone I love is very sick. Like many young people, I have a hard time with organized religion for reasons that more strident atheists can explain better than I can here. Learning about the Catholic Church’s many abuses has soured my already tenuous relationship to it.
But I respect people who find love in religion, and I still think practicing it can be beautiful. I like how whenever my parents drive by a church, they cross themselves and kiss their fingers at the end. And sometimes, we go to my aunt’s apartment to pray the rosary with her friend, a jovial Puerto Rican priest. We sit around her coffee table as he solemnly prays the Mysteries of the Rosary, stories about Jesus’s life. I watch the priest’s hands as they caress his blue rosary beads, and we all have tea and fruitcake after.
But my Catholic upbringing has left me with a desire for an atheism that doesn’t kill spirituality. I’ve never felt confident enough to say that there isn’t some sort of magic governing our lives, whether it’s God or the constellations. I don’t think a benevolent God would let the world be as fucked up as it is, but it’s scary to think that nothing is up there, that humanity is all we’ve got. There’s a reason that so many people in my life are agnostic.
My Capricorn friend and I know that astrology is fundamentally nonsense, that our fates are not determined by the position of the sun relative to the constellations as they appeared more than 2,000 years ago. But there’s something to be said for taking momentary refuge in birth charts and horoscopes while the world we are inheriting falls apart. And astrology isn’t responsible for centuries of religious oppression, as far as I know. That being said, I think it’s time to order my copy of Your Personal Horoscope 2018.
Have fun leafing through our 2nd issue!