This is the weekly Amplify newsletter, where you can be inspired and challenged by the voices, opinions and insights of women at The Globe and Mail.
This week’s newsletter was written by Sandra E. Martin, standards editor at The Globe and Mail.
“What do the stars have in store for you this year?”
As the calendar turned over from 2023 to 2024, astrology missives popped into my e-mail inbox and social media feeds like messages from a pleasant, but slightly distant, acquaintance wishing you a happy holiday season or inviting you to their latest MLM shopping party. Despite my mild skepticism, I clicked through to read the entry for Pisces.
Actually, I read my horoscope most days – and have done so for as long as I can remember. And I’m far from alone. An average of 24,000 people consult The Globe and Mail’s horoscopes each day. More than a million read Chani Nicholas, the British Columbia-born astrologer favoured by fashionable urbanites, each month. Around the world, astrology generated an estimated US$12.8-billion in revenue in 2021, according to ResearchandMarkets.com.
In this age of declining trust, you’d think interest in how the position of the stars and planets when you were born is supposed to affect you today would be, if not waning, unlikely to rise. But that same market research report projects astrology will pull in US$22.8-billion by 2031.
I’m a journalist, so this breadcrumb of information made me curious about astrology’s broad, enduring appeal, as well as my own horoscope habit.
Online research quickly showed me that people’s relationship to astrology is a lot like their relationship to potato chips: Some can stop after munching on just one or two, while others are inclined to polish off the whole bag. For those in the latter camp, there’s even a wikiHow page that walks you through nine steps to “stop believing in horoscopes.”
There’s evidence women are more likely to believe in astrology than men (37 per cent versus 20 per cent, according to a 2018 Pew Research Center poll) and according to Axios, one-quarter of all American women aged 18 to 25 have downloaded the Co-Star Astrology app (musician Phoebe Bridgers among them).
I don’t actually believe astrology forecasts are true, and I wouldn’t not “begin a new venture” because my horoscope warned against it that day (although let’s consider how the Ides of March worked out for Julius Caesar…). What’s the draw, then?
Some fellow horoscope readers say they’re in it for the entertainment value, but I don’t think that’s the whole story – at least not for me. There are quite literally hundreds of other things I could do for a quick amusement hit. I’ve noticed that I can usually gauge how stressed I feel by how quickly I consult my horoscope in the morning, and whether I read more than one. Am I looking for reassurance?
“People need a sense of being in control,” Terence Sandbek, a clinical psychologist and author, told WebMD, noting that we might seek out our horoscope when life is changing or we’ve gone through a difficult experience.
Research supports this. “Previous literature suggests that when societies or individuals are under stress or threat, people are more likely to turn to astrology and other epistemically unfounded beliefs,” observed an academic study on whether intelligence levels and certain personality traits, such as agreeableness, extraversion and conscientiousness are associated with a belief in astrology. (For what it’s worth, the study found that narcissism was the biggest predictor – but I’m not talking about belief here, I’m talking about appeal.)
Some contend that astrology has ties to feminism: “It empowers women in particular to take more control over their future; it encourages us to learn more about ourselves and go confidently in the direction that makes the most sense for our well-being,” opined New York-based writer Tanya Ghahremani in an online piece for NBC News.
Horoscopes tend to be written in a way that’s highly open to interpretation and I think that contributes to the attraction: You can infer in your horoscope what you need it to say. It’s a bit like tossing a coin when you’re feeling indecisive. Either outcome, whether it matches your guess or not, tells you what you think you should do. Heads, I ask my boss for a raise; tails, I don’t. The coin lands on heads, you feel a rush of excitement; tails-side-up, you feel a twang of disappointment. Your reaction to each result tells you what you actually knew all along – you do want to ask for that raise.
It isn’t unlike the practice of dowsing, which McGill scientist Jonathan Jarry wrote about in March, 2023. You may have seen a version of dowsing depicted in movies about the Dust Bowl or other droughts, wherein a practitioner uses a y-shaped stick or other rod to “divine” where to find underground water deposits. Or you may have joined in a popular baby-shower game that involves holding a ring threaded on a necklace or ribbon over the expectant mom’s abdomen so the swinging or circling movement can determine the gender of the baby-to-be. To the eye, the phenomenon is magical – but as Jarry pointed out, “The movements of the held object are actually created by tiny, subconscious movements” made by the diviner. “Think Ouija board: You ask any question to your pendulum and it answers back.”
Ultimately, you can’t prevent difficulties from coming our way, but you can control your response to them.
Or, to put it in astrology terms, the fault may be in your stars – but, perhaps empowered or inspired by the messages in your horoscope, the solution is in your own hands.
What else we’re thinking about:
To encourage my love of birding, my partner gifted me excellent binoculars for Christmas. Excited, I pointed them out the back window hoping to spy one of the blue jays, finches or cardinals that visit my backyard – only to realize, as I gazed up, dizzy, that I was probably not using them properly. This super-helpful Audobon video taught me everything I needed to know, as a beginner, to keep birds in sight and avoid headaches.
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