Do you know your zodiac sign? As astrology continues to climb up the ladder in the hierarchy of things the internet is conflicted about, you might know your big three as well- your sun sign, your moon sign, and your ascendant. If you are familiar with these terms, perhaps you’ve already jumped on the wagon to discover the potential your birth chart has laid in place for you, a predestined fortune or misfortune.
As we experience our second year of the pandemic, we find ourselves fully immersed in internet subcultures, whether it is online quizzing, engaging in Twitter feuds, scrolling through reels/attempting to make one, or more recently, the realm of astrology which has witnessed an upsurge in interest, along with the associated field of tarot. One might trace this to the cultural shift towards online spirituality through which tarot readers and astrology have seen an increase in the audience either through elaborately crafted predictions, or statements like ‘mercury is in retrograde’ which has captured the minds of people who spend most of their lives online.
This shift cannot be understood without any context as such. Twitter is the backbone of the internet community, Instagram is merely a meek follower, depending on the former for content; most of the meme accounts on Instagram are just portfolios of edited tweets. Twitter is where the original jokes circulate, it consists of a host of witty people commenting on the latest meme-able situation, whether it be a ship stuck in the Suez Canal, or the Met Gala fashion disaster. Aptly its tagline remains true to its worth- ‘Its what’s happening’ and if something achieves immense popularity on Twitter, it will stick, and right now Astrology is what’s happening on this site.
So why is astrology so alluring to the average contemporary internet user? Most times, it is dismissed as pseudoscience and there isn’t enough empirical evidence to suggest the correlation of one’s birth time and date with one’s personality, however, most of us know our zodiac sign, and maybe against your will, you also know the different character traits assigned to your zodiac sign. This primary but vital piece of information is all you need to actively start taking an interest in this cultural phenomenon especially as the associated horoscopes are widely available on the internet to use at your discretion.
Astrology is popular for the same reasons MBTI personality tests are – it makes one feel unique and individual in a world where one is forced to reconcile oneself to the fact that one’s interests, motivations, likes and dislikes, and aspirations are shared by many. It emerges as a way to mark one’s personality trope and either ascribe to it unconsciously or find ways to go against it. Astrology makes you feel seen, it also gives you a justification for things that don’t go your way. This is explainable through the Barnum effect which is a common phenomenon wherein people relate strongly to statements about their personality which they believe has been tailored to them when in fact the statements are vague enough to apply to a whole range of people (Joanne Ma, The Psychology of Astrology).
Tarot an associated field, closely linked to Romanian culture, which looks at predicting paths and futures for a person through a shuffle of different cards has also cropped up due to its proximity to astrology. There are a hundred different tarot readers on spaces such as Twitter and Instagram who even have their services listed with a fixed price through which clients can contact them and have their cards read. This is a source of income for many self-proclaimed astrologers, and they take their profession seriously, just like the astrologers of ancient times who were consulted to make important decisions. Moreover, it’s not just commoners like us who are believers in the positions of the stars as many celebrities and businesspersons also look towards their birth charts to release their album/movies, or go ahead with important business deals on particular dates, or wear certain colors and give significance to numbers based on the conjointness of both astrology and numerology.
“I don’t believe in astrology; I’m a Sagittarius and we’re skeptical.”– Arthur C. Clarke
Therefore, astrology functions like a religion; it gives people a sense of purpose especially if it feels like one is not in control of one’s life. By consulting an astrologer, one can partially hand over one’s fate to the heavens and the planetary positions. This becomes all the more important in a world afflicted with a deadly pandemic, with increasing anxieties over layoffs and social relationships where people feel like aren’t in control of their lives anymore. Moreover, people with troubled relationships or those who are going through breakups are increasingly drawn to tarot readings because they have catchphrases and words which increase the vulnerable person’s conviction that their lover might come back to them, thereby functioning as bait.
Astrology is criticized for the same reason religion has been – it is not scientifically proven and therefore nonsensical. However, one does not require empirical data to take into account belief systems, especially of those who aren’t from the first world. Refuting everything that is not scientifically proven is the bourgeois rational way of experiencing life; one need not bend to that, especially when many scientists such as Einstein, and Kepler and even psychologists such as Carl Jung did not discard astrology, as has been said by him – “We are born at a given moment, in a given place and, like vintage years of wine, we have the qualities of the year and of the season of which we are born. Astrology does not lay claim to anything more”.
Ashwini Gurung is a student pursuing Masters in Sociology from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Reda Aamna