The future has never felt so unknowable. Two weeks ago we were taking the subway to work, dining out, watching the kids play with grandma and grandpa. A week ago it dawned on us that maybe this was not going to blow over if we just washed our hands more often.
Now we are confined to our homes, adjusting to a new global reality and waiting to hear what comes next. Turning to traditional figureheads does not yield much clarity: Few in positions of institutional authority are willing – or able – to prognosticate.
This is uncharted territory, and a whole lot of us desperately want to see it mapped out. For those who choose to believe, the answer lies in the stars, and in the soothing familiarity of daily horoscopes. But how exactly do astrologers address an angst-ridden, house-bound audience in need of reassurance?
“In times of crisis, people will turn to astrology even more than they do normally,” says Vancouver astrologer Rose Marcus, who writes the weekly horoscopes for The Georgia Straight. She experienced a marked uptick in clients since the COVID-19 outbreak began. “People want to know: ‘Is this going to affect me? Do I have to worry?’”
Her strategy: “I’m tempering my tone to the moment. Sometimes they can take it, and sometimes delivering it straight is just too much.”
A 2005 report from Gallup found that about a quarter of Canadians believe in astrology. The transition to online has only served to amplify audiences: Superstar astrologer Susan Miller’s site, Astrologyzone.com, has 11 million unique viewers a month.
Marcus says her followers turn to her for comfort, so she does not want to ramp up the anxiety with dark predictions: “It’s not the astrologist’s role to shout, ‘Houston, we have a problem!’”
As she writes in her March online column: “Fear serves absolutely no purpose. I am advocating that you stay pro-active, that you do right by yourself and by all. Maintain good health and good boundaries. Do it for yourself and you will be doing it for us, too.”
At the same time, Marcus feels a responsibility to speak honestly. “Do I see the virus continuing to be a threat? Yes,” she says. “Do I want people to be afraid of that? No.”
To that end, her March forecast is essentially a COVID-19 briefing: The virus will continue to make waves for “some time to come,” especially while the planets are cycling through Pisces, a circuit that comes to an end in the spring of 2021.
Echoing Marcus is New York-based Miller, whose practical, no-nonsense approach (“I’m no psychic”; “astrology is math”) has made her arguably the biggest name in the game. Her work and world view is overwhelmingly positive – and the coronavirus has not changed this.
“You have to be kind, you can’t throw a pie in people’s face,” says Miller, who writes with a blend of frankness and enthusiasm.
A recent essay gently assuages readers’ anxieties while also doling out sound advice: “I am convinced that America has Gemini rising. In that case, the U.S. must be just as vigilant as Italy to combat the virus. … All we can do is to take one day at a time and listen to the news. We all need to follow the advice of the medical authorities, for doing so will be a matter of life and death.”
(Miller did run into a bit of difficulty stemming from the fact that she composes many of her horoscopes months in advance and apparently did not see the crisis coming.“I’m telling people to get out there and go on dates, and they’re writing in telling me I’m crazy.” She is now editing to account for current conditions.)
Shereen Dindar, a Toronto-based digital content manager and long-time astrology devotee, pays Astro.com a small annual fee to receive a daily online reading and follows the work of Miller. She found solace in a recent post in which Miller predicts the virus will surge in the coming months and then retreat in the summer, only to re-emerge in the fall before dissipating in the winter.
“Reading her blurb, whether it’s true or not, perked up my spirit,” Dindar says. “A part of me was really panicking – how long will this go on for? There’s a human need for hope when you’re going through hard times, and I think a lot of people get that from astrology.”
That response is understandable, says Nancy Sin, an associate professor of psychology at University of British Columbia and principal investigator of a study examining how individuals worldwide are coping with the COVID-19 outbreak.
“When we’re unable to predict what is going to happen or control things, we look for comfort. People are reporting huge amounts of stress. Some people will turn to these alternative sources.”
While many astrologers are comforting readers by offering possible timelines as to how the crisis may unfold, Jessica Lanyadoo takes a different approach. “The value of prediction can be a distraction,” she says.
A Canadian based in San Francisco, Lanyadoo is emblematic of the next generation of astrologer, at once columnist, counsellor and confidant. She communicates with her followers through social media, a digital TLC TV show, a podcast, her website and in her columns for Chatelaine and Girlboss.
“There are pressing things we need to put our energy towards, and they require us to be present, not focused on the future,” says Lanyadoo, who declines to guess at when the outbreak will end. “This is a marathon and not a sprint, and that is a viewpoint informed by astrology, but also by the World Health Organization and health professionals across the globe.”
For her, COVID-19 “hasn’t changed anything,” she says. "My approach is already oriented towards psychologically and emotionally supportive work and social justice. It didn’t require any pivot.”
At the end of the day, Lanyadoo adds, astrologists are only human, trying to navigate this staggering new reality along with the rest of the world.
“It’s important to remember that we’re in this, too. Each astrologer has her own personality, world view and tolerance for stress, and all of this affects how we communicate what we understand. We must consider what is constructive and useful, what inspires fear, and what inspires a false sense of complacency. It’s not something I take lightly.”
It is that trust and daily communication with their readers that puts astrologers in a unique position to gauge societal levels of anxiety – and perhaps even accurately foretell when the crisis is abating, at least on a more individual level.
“During the [financial] crisis in 2008, people only asked about money and career,” Miller says. “When they started asking about romance, that’s when I knew things were getting better – they had food and shelter under control. Right now, people aren’t asking about when to have babies.”
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