“What sign is he?” asks my therapist.
I laugh. If that question isn’t proof that astrology has gone mainstream, I don’t know what is.
“Taurus,” I say.
“Oh, that explains why you guys butt heads,” she says.
If you sprained your eyes rolling them — trust me — you aren’t alone. People generally fall into one of two camps when it comes to their thoughts on the zodiac: “Oh, I totally believe in that” or “It’s bullshit.”
To the astrology-is-bullshit people, I get it. I’m a woman who respects science, reason, and evidence, and so I understand the inclination to dismiss astrology as ridiculous. But astrology has been practiced for thousands of years, and I also understand the reverence from many quarters that exists alongside the ridicule.
In order to get a better understanding of astrology and the historical significance of the zodiac, I seek out Susan Miller, who writes free monthly horoscopes for millions of readers on her website AstrologyZone.com, and also has an app with a cool half a million subscribers. Miller was one of the earliest astrologers on the internet, penning some of the first-ever digital horoscopes.
But she has been learning about the stars since she was a teen. “I had to study years before I was ready to write a column, according to my teacher, my mother. She said, ‘You must study 12 years or you won’t be any good.’ Of course, with depth of astrology’s complexities, she was right.”
We meet up at the Four Seasons Los Angeles in Beverly Hills, where she hosts people for their in-depth chart readings as the hotel’s official astrologer in residence.
For the uninitiated, astrology was born about 2,500 years ago in Babylonia, part of Mesopotamia. “Astrology’s long life certainly attests to its ability to correctly describe the qualities and personalities of each of the signs,” explains Miller.
Being with Susan is like being with a rock star. We are constantly interrupted. People recognize her, approach her, and practically beg her to make room for them in her already packed schedule (the day I saw her she had already done six hours of readings). At one point, an old friend of hers, a psychic, joins us. In the brief time we are together Miller has multiple celebrity assistants call to see if she can squeeze their A-list bosses in.
It’s apparent people are hungry for her knowledge. Miller’s analytics show that in the past year, more than 75 percent of her over 10 million-strong audience was new and the “readers are spending more and more time on the pages too.” According to a 2014 National Science Foundation study, more Americans see astrology as a scientific than they have since 1983. But you don’t need studies and analytics to see the trend if you spend any time at all online. Astrology is everywhere — it’s inescapable — in memes, instagram accounts, horoscope columns, and on dating profiles. I ask Miller why she thinks people are so interested in their potential mate’s horoscope.
“Normally it would take you six dates to find out what you learn about someone on the internet in a matter of minutes. Astrology provides part of that information dossier.”
“Dating is scary. We feel on display when we meet someone new and we want to make a good impression. At the same time, we want to figure out the person we have just met,” Miller explains. “There’s a natural desire to want to create a strong bond. Some girls and guys feel that if they have more information about the person, they can put the relationship on strong footing from the start.”
Living in the age of information, it’s not surprising that people want to know as much as they can about someone before they even meet them. “Normally it would take you six dates to find out what you learn about someone on the internet in a matter of minutes,” says Miller. “Astrology provides part of that information dossier, so to speak.”
Much ado has been made about the modern revival of the zodiac obsession. Not since the 1960s and ’70s have people been so hungry for insight from the ancients. It’s been chalked up to everything from the dawn of the internet to the hopelessness of millennials to the end of faith.
I’d add that we are all children of the therapy generation, and thanks to social media, self-obsessed navel gazers. Astrology is an easy way for people to talk about themselves without talking about themselves.
The cynical part of me also sees evaluating someone according to their sun sign as another crude return to our roots in tribalism. It seems humans are always looking for easy ways to categorize people and even easier ways to excuse their dismissal of them.
I was curious how many people seriously use astrology to weed out prospective matches, so I asked a host of friends and strangers on the internet for their perspectives. I found confirmation from multiple quarters that people do really use astrology to inform their dating choices. Luna tells me, “If I go on a first date and ask them their star sign, I can calculate their crazy levels. Like for instance, if they say they’re a Scorpio, I run the other way.”
I ask if she has ever dismissed a person based on their star sign before meeting them. “Yes, because I know it probably won’t work out,” she says.
Maybe part of astrology’s surge in popularity is due to the fact that we live in a world of increasing sexual and gender fluidity, and modern religions aren’t big enough to encompass the radical shifts in social beliefs.
“Astrology is a genderless faith immune to the patriarchy,” Stephanie, who is 25 and a budding astrologer, says. “I think it appeals to people more into holistic practices because of its inclusivity. For the queer community, it’s like feeling a part of community or a religion where God doesn’t hate them.”
Stephanie mentions her love of another current rock star in the world of astrology, Chani Nicholas, who has gained massive popularity using the zodiac as a tool for encouraging social justice and activism.
When I ask Susan Miller if she feels astrology is filling a need in people’s lives in an increasingly agnostic society, you would think I stabbed her in the heart with a dagger.
“Oh no, honey.” She looks at me with the compassion of a nurse looking at a sick patient. “You don’t really believe that do you?”
Some aspects of astrology she describes, though, sound similar to religion to me. “Every religion teaches we must take responsibility for our actions, and we must be ethical. Astrologers teach the same truth,” Miller says. “You cannot blame a planetary aspect for your mistakes or bad behavior. We have free will and the need to take full responsibility for our actions.”
But she explains that basically, astrology is bigger than religion and actually, it’s written in the stars whether we are destined to be a believer or not. “You can see your faith (or lack of it) in a birth chart. Astrology has always been about individualization and about self-discovery.”
And where do I stand?
Well, being a hippie yogi fully indoctrinated by the West Coast school of “Wu” (New Agey pseudo-science), I’m a believer. And I’ve always been a believer. Maybe it’s because I’m a Scorpio, I don’t know, but it’s always seemed silly of me to think that the moon can affect the tides and not us. It feels arrogant to assume that the position of the planets in the cosmos when I was born — something so huge and vast I can’t get my puny mind around it — couldn’t affect my tiny little human personality.
In all things Wu, I choose to lean into the mystery of life. If you can’t prove to me that it’s absolutely without a doubt not true, I prefer to believe that it is. This is how I feel about reincarnation, ghosts, aliens, psychic powers, and other fringe science as well. It’s just more interesting to believe it’s real than to think it’s not. What can I say? I’m in the business of storytelling, and questions make for the basis of fascinating stories.
What I love about astrology is that it’s not a science and it’s not a religion either (even if people treat it as such). It exists in the gray area where the human condition bumps up against the mystery of why we are here.
Balancing the terror of being human with the wonder of being human is why people have looked to the heavens for thousands of years. It makes sense we would trust something as perfectly ordered as the cosmos to explain life’s tragic chaos. And that when it comes to dealing with the mysteries of the human heart, we would look to the stars.