By: Lauren Hyde
The rapid advancement of technology over the past few decades, combined with the inventions of social media, smart phones, apps, and artificial intelligence has allowed us to acquire information on anything at any time. The invention of these technologies has drastically changed the way we live. This has caused several occupations to experience major shifts in the sense of their traditional roles. Astrologers are constantly having to adapt, as astrology has evolved from an ancient practice into a social media trend.
Astrology emerged about 2,000 years ago in Babylon, which is now known as Iraq. It was derived from astronomy. Astronomy had already mapped out the positions of the planets. Astrology began when people became curious of the influence that they had over us. This curiosity has caused people to turn to astrology for a glimpse into their future, especially in times of uncertainty that cause them distress. In 1999 a National Science Foundation survey revealed that 12 percent of Americans read their horoscope every day or “quite often,” and 32 percent read them “just occasionally.”
A woman named Sandhya told The Atlantic that she turned to astrology in 2013 when she needed guidance. She said, “I’m always a worrier. I’m one of those people who, once I start getting into a book, I skip ahead and I read the end. I don’t like cliffhangers, I don’t like suspense. I just need to know what’s gonna happen. I have a story in my head. I was just hoping certain things would happen in my life, and I wanted to see if I am lucky enough for them to happen. Now that they have happened, I haven’t been reading [my horoscope] as much and I think it’s because I’m in a happy place right now.” Sandhya’s feelings about her life aren’t that different from the rest of the population. In a 2009 iVillage poll 33 percent of women, who read their horoscope, admitted to checking their horoscopes before job interviews and 35 percent did before beginning a new relationship.
Thousands of years ago people needed the same reassurance. The astronomer Claudius Ptolemy (100-170 AD) started to widely spread the study of astrology. The sky was divided into twelve sections based on the twelve new moons that occur throughout a single year and the sun’s placement throughout the year. Each of those sections contained a constellation. We now associate those constellations with the zodiac signs. Ptolemy noticed these patterns in the sky and started mapping them around the Earth, which he believed was the center point of the universe.
At the time astrology was accepted as a legitimate study. This ideology shifted when Galileo discovered that the universe centered around the sun, not the Earth as Ptolemy previously claimed. The legitimacy of astrology came into question. When The Scientific Method came along astronomy passed its test, but astrology did not. This officially deemed it invalid.
It wasn’t until the 1930s that astrology re-emerged. A London newspaper published an article by R.H. Naylor, an astrologer, in which he predicted Princess Maragret’s life by analyzing her birth chart. Birth charts were created by recording the positions of the sun, moon, and the rest of the planets at the time of one’s birth. These charts were then used to determine what this person’s life would be like. Naylor’s predictions proved to be accurate in time. He started to regularly write a column about ordinary people based on their zodiac signs. This was the invention of horoscopes. The public loved them. Newspapers and magazines have produced similar content ever since. The zodiac’s popularity continued to rise throughout the 1960s and 70s. The book Sun Signs, written by Linda Goodman in 1968, was the first book on astrology to make the New York Times Best Seller List. Over 30 million copies were sold.
Astrology had steadily integrated itself into popular culture. By the 1990s astrologers had an online presence. This made horoscopes even more accessible. Susan Miller created her website Astrology Zone in 1995. Her readings are lengthy. The reason Miller gained a cult following, mainly consisting of New Yorkers and those in the world of high fashion, is because she single handedly writes the detailed monthly horoscopes for each of the twelve signs free of charge. Her work load is extensive. Even with her undying dedication, she’s become infamous for her horoscopes being released late almost every month. They’re set to be released on the first of each month and when they’re not even her most loyal followers begin to revolt.
Websites like Astrology Zone were the gateway to the creation of astrology curated apps. Within these apps horoscopes start to become more detailed and personalized compared to those in newspapers and magazines that just appeal to the masses. In 2017 Banu Guler, Ben Weitzman, and Anna Kopp created the app CoStar using artificial intelligence technology. The app requires users to enter their birth date, time, and place of birth in order to generate their birth chart. This allows the algorithm to utilize information about not only the individual’s sun sign, but also the moon, other planets, and the 12 houses. This ensures that the user’s horoscope is as personal as possible. The app also utilizes NASA’s data to keep up to date with where the planets are, which is used to generate the daily horoscopes.
Sanctuary is another astrology app that came out in 2019. Similar to CoStar, it provides users with a daily horoscope. What sets it apart is the feature of live readings any time the user wants, for a fee of course. It connects them with actual astrologers, not an algorithm or a robot. The Cut reported, “All Sanctuary astrologers have been vetted by a team helmed by Sanctuary’s chief astrologer, Aliza Kelly. They are located across the U.S. and in Europe, and they are waiting for you to ask whether you should sign the contract, go on the date, confront your mother, or just prepare you for the day.”
Creations like these might make a traditional astrologer, like Susan Miller, become obsolete. Miller is still one of the elite, but she has had to adapt. She continues to run her website, but to keep up with ever evolving technology and remain relevant, she released Astrology Zone as an app. When one of Costar’s creators, Guler, was asked about technology replacing astrologers she told Vice, “There is a huge gap between the infinite chaos and beautiful complexity of a human mind and a robot. We’re instead hoping to occupy a position between having personal astrologers and mass media horoscopes.” Sanctuary’s Co-Founder Ross Clark echoed Guler’s thoughts. He told the New York Times, “We’re not trying to be some sort of spiritual Alexa, where we’re using AI to replace someone. If you think about the practice, it’s really emotional.”
There are plenty of successful professional astrologers out there. The modern astrologer utilizes the web, major publications, social media, apps, and podcasts to remain relevant. They also focus on celebrities and other elements of pop culture. For example, Kyle Thomas is a celebrity astrologer based in Los Angeles. He hosts a podcast and writes articles analyzing the astrology behind pop culture. He makes predictions about the future of celebrity relationships, award shows, and scandals like Netflix’s Tiger King. Also in L.A., Chani Nicholas works with the inner circle of celebrities. She hosted a YouTube series for Netflix called “Star Power,” where she sat down with celebrities, like Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, to read their birth charts. Nicholas is also known for her creation of “Cosmic Playlists” for Spotify. She curated playlists for each of the zodiac signs. She said, “It’s a monthly horoscope in music form.” These modern astrologers have to be innovative and create untapped niches to be successful. Keeping up with current trends is key.
Social media has played a significant role in the evolution of astrology. Nicholas told The Atlantic, “Astrologers are always trying to boil down these giant concepts into digestible pieces of knowledge. The kids these days and their memes are like the perfect context for astrology.” There are accounts solely dedicated to posting astrological memes. These accounts categorize the signs as tv show characters and celebrities. These memes take the zodiac signs’ traits and make them entertaining. Putting astrology, a sometimes overwhelming topic, into relatable terms has appealed to a mass of millennials everywhere. Hundreds of thousands, and in some cases millions, of people follow these accounts.
Technology has increased the value of astrology. Apps and social media have made it more accessible and understandable. It’s also an entertaining outlet that allows us to not take ourselves too seriously. Astrologers have transformed from ancient scientists into modern day therapists. The practice has become a comfort or sort of coping mechanism to make sense of the future personally, politically, and globally. Modern day astrologers actually agree that it’s not an exact science. In the episode Astrology of the Netflix series Explained, Astrologer Sam Reynolds said, “Think of it [astrology] as a divenitory art. It’s definitely more art than science.” Another Astrologer Nadiya Shah said, “Maybe astrology doesn’t fit into that modern definition of science, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a lot of value to people’s lives.”