Why All Your Friends Were Into Astrology This Year

In rough times, people turn to the stars for guidance. Insiders explain why.

December 21, 2016
Why All Your Friends Were Into Astrology This Year Illustration: Emily Keegin / Photo: John Lemieux

The day after Donald Trump was elected, Ophira Edut, one half of the popular astrologer duo AstroTwins, wrote a blog post. She knew that some of the people who read her and her sister Tali’s horoscopes and forecasts would be looking for reassurance. So in a post titled “2016 Election Aftermath: Where Do We Go From Here?,” she pointed to a planetary explanation for the results: “In the month leading up to the election, aggressive Mars and powermonger Pluto were both in Capricorn, the sign that rules the patriarchy.” In the same post, she went on to warn against the “astrologers and psychics in the world who, like Donald Trump, build their platforms by preying on people’s fear,” and encouraged readers to “stand up against the hatred that has been unleashed on America and will seep into the Oval Office.”

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A couple of weeks later, when I asked Ophira what had prompted her to publish a spiritual perspective on the election, she explained: “I knew people were going to be looking for answers. The election just devastated a lot of people. Sometimes when we can’t find [answers] in our own everyday world, we look at the stars to see if there’s a trend. And if there is, is it going to be over soon?”

The sentiment may have crystallized during the aftermath of the election, but our current cultural climate — shaped by social, political, and economic forces — had already begun to make astrology an increasingly attractive prospect. Of course, billions of people across the world have believed in the stars and the planets for millenia, but Ophira and several other astrologers I spoke with said they’ve observed what feels like an increased and intensified interest in the subject over the past year or two. During that same timespan, I’ve noticed friends and acquaintances referencing astrological signs, the phases of the moon, and the movements of the planets more frequently and more intensely. I’ve also come across more and more astrology memes and threads on Instagram, Twitter, and other social timelines. And though I’ve read my own horoscope religiously for years, it wasn’t until last year that I looked up my rising and moon signs and began participating in rituals designed to harness the energies of full and new moons. “We used to have to elaborately explain Mercury retrograde every time it happened in our horoscopes. Now Mercury retrograde is as mainstream as pumpkin spice lattes,” said Ophira.

“We used to have to elaborately explain Mercury retrograde every time it happened in our horoscopes. Now Mercury retrograde is as mainstream as pumpkin spice lattes.”—Ophira Edut of AstroTwins

There’s no precise way to quantify such a shift, but the perceived rise in interest astrology can nonetheless be attributed to a handful of different factors. As Goth Shakira, an astrologer and meme-maker based in Montreal who also goes by Dre, pointed out over the phone, “in times of crisis, people turn to their spiritual side, whether that's an organized religion or an alternative form of spirituality.” Shakira was brought up in a conservative evangelical Christian family and said that, after she was introduced to astrology by a former partner, she found it to be a useful replacement for beliefs she’d once had. “When everything falls out from underneath you, what do you have? You try to grasp onto something,” she said. “It's really important to me at least to understand what’s going on and to understand our place in the midst of all this chaos.”

Danielle Ayoka, who under the name Mystic Lipstick has bloomed into one of Twitter’s most popular astrologers, agreed. She gained much of her following thanks to her playful takes on the signs’ romantic tendencies, which she shares as threads that speak directly to an entire swathe of social media often categorized as “relationship Twitter.” But she also encourages readers to pay attention to the phases of the moon, and shares step-by-step guides for full and new moon rituals for free. The night of the election, many of her 50,000 followers reported being jolted awake around 3 a.m., feeling particularly tired. For the next week, Ayoka noticed that people across the country were turning inward, conserving their energy as if to protect themselves. So she tweeted encouraging and motivating words, something she generally does when major things happen. “People want answers. They’re looking for something that can help them feel more whole and complete. It's natural for people to gravitate towards anything that can potentially help them feel restored,” she told me. “People start to go, ‘Why not try this? I have nothing to lose.’ And once they do that, they start becoming more aware of their energy and how their body responds to certain stimuli and things in the atmosphere. They start becoming way more aware of the world around them, and they realize that this stuff works.”

As long as humans have existed, they’ve searched for things to believe in, whether those beliefs saw them deifying nature, finding faith in monotheistic religions, following inherited cultural practices, or elevating political and socioeconomic convictions into ideologies. But as disillusionment with religion in the U.S. has grown in recent years, astrology may be filling an organized religion-shaped void. An advantage of shaping a worldview using the moon and the planets is that it “feels personal but it also keeps things out of being too personal. It’s like, ‘Alright there's a bigger phenomenon happening here. It depersonalizes things in a helpful way sometimes,” said Ophira.

“In times of crisis, people turn to their spiritual side, whether that’s an organized religion or an alternative form of spirituality.”—Goth Shakira

For Seren Karasu, a New Yorker whose interest in astrology deepened when she moved to Portland for grad school last year, that adaptability is one of the main draws. “What I like about it is that there isn't one way to do it. You don’t feel as confined as you do in religion; I’m able to take different aspects from it and make it make sense for me and help me in my own understanding of the world,” she said. “I’m drawn to understanding that the moon and the planets have energy and that plays a role in how things are and how I’m feeling.”

Karasu said she’d always been familiar with sun signs because her mother had long had a surface-level interest in horoscopes, but it was discovering astrologers she connected with that deepened her interest. The social web also allows the space for horoscopes, forecasts, and toolsets to be written with more contemporary approaches that are a far cry from the sedate astrologers who dominated the backpages of newspapers and alt weeklies for decades. Karasu, and several others, identified the popular astrologer Chani Nicholas as being particularly influential. Nicholas’s weekly horoscopes and supermoon forecasts are inclusive, social justice-minded, and written as rewarding, energizing affirmations; “the experience of being accurately reflected is profoundly healing,” wrote Nicholas, of the value of astrology. Elsewhere, people like Ayoka and Goth Shakira — who writes in the sardonic, intelligent tone of the millennial social web and who first gained a following for her Instagram memes — are able to build niche communities of followers and readers with whom their sensibilities resonate.

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As Ophira explained, “for a long time, people who believed in astrology were gaslighted. They’re told that they’re crazy for feeling things that are happening — we live in this rationalist world that dismisses anything spiritual or that can't be tangibly measured and quantified. Social media helps you gather with other people who are experiencing the same things and know that you're not crazy for feeling that or observing it.”

A friend recently said that good astrology writing, like Nicholas’s affirmation horoscopes, often reminds them of the teachings of their family's Buddhist practice. For me, the routine of beginning each week and month with a close reading of the days ahead, as well as participating in full and new moon rituals, has sometimes felt like a stand-in for religious and cultural practices that, as an agnostic, I simply don’t have. And though I consider myself a skeptic, I’ve increasingly been put at ease by knowing what the moon and the planets are up to. Maybe it’s a placebo, or maybe the effects of astrological patterns can be felt. As Ophira pointed out, it all works best when it’s not taken too seriously.“We always remind people that we are co-creating with the stars,” she told me. “The stars give a rough outline of the journey, but it's up to us to choose our own adventure.”


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