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Astrology, our irrationality of choice


I remember the first time a trusted friend and fellow writer told me to read AstrologyZone. Never one for spirituality, I recall politely declining, thinking she was a little untethered and that she must have just gotten out of a bad breakup, searching for meaning wherever she could find it. Then another friend, and another friend, and another friend suggested Susan Miller. Another decided to stop seeing her analyst and go to an astrologist. The fantastic poet Ariana Reines even has an astrology reading side project, Lazy Eye Haver.

I’ve never really caught the astrology bug, but confounding as it may be to some, many brilliant people have. Perhaps it’s the boredom that comes with rationalism, or a search for the romantic or spiritual when religion has little place in creative industries. The editors at n+1 have written a great text about astrology, which they term as our “irrationality of choice.” In partial below.

IT WAS TO BE A MAGICAL, enchanting month for us. Jupiter, the giver of gifts and luck, was moving into Virgo midmonth in alignment with the sun, where it would multiply the beneficence of the gassy planet and rain fortune down upon us. Mercury and Venus were in retrograde, complicating email and love, but a group of small planets was gathering in our sixth house of work and assignments and health. If we were dating, we should get married soon. If we had a contract to sign, we should hold off. The current conditions were sunny, very warm, and humid, with a high of eighty-four and winds blowing at six miles per hour. Twenty-two across, “Too eager, or needing more evidence, for Freud?” was O-V-E-R-D-E-T-E-R-M-I-N-E-D.

We threw out the crossword (Thursday, too hard) and asked our boyfriend, reading For Marx on the couch, when he started to believe in astrology. If “believe” was strong—and it was—when, at least, had astrology ceased to be an embarrassing thing to consult without irony? He put down his book and sighed. “Irony is overrated,” he said. “Besides, you have to choose your irrationality or it will choose you. Did you know,” he continued, “that Althusser was a Libra? It explains why we get along so well. I love Libras. My mom’s a Libra.”

When had astrology become our irrationality of choice? Probably sometime around 2012, when things were not so good for us. When you’re feeling stuck, one way to convince yourself change is in the near to middle distance is to read a horoscope. It didn’t matter that the mechanism by which it worked was dubious: cosmic forces emanating from the ordered motions of celestial bodies, wiggling down through the atmosphere in invisible rays to be inspired by human lungs. A broken clock is right twice a day, and weren’t there plenty of things we took to be true without understanding how they worked—GPS, menstrual synchrony, gluten? Our horoscope, at least, gave us something to look forward to. We weren’t idiots, just a little depressed, and comforted by this garrulous pseudoscience that advised, encouraged, cautioned.

For a while, we read Susan Miller. Of all the attentive online astrologers, Miller was the most attentive, the most online. She was also bewilderingly prolific and upbeat. At the peak of its popularity, her website AstrologyZone attracted 6 million readers a month. Her forecasts were long, gushy letters—she called us “dear,” shared friendly anecdotes about running into readers at the gym—and featured a level of material specificity we thought imprudent in a fortune-teller. (“If you were downsized from your job, then you may get a platinum severance package.”) Many of her devotees were fashion people in Manhattan, and though we were not fashion people in Manhattan, we, too, found vague consolation in her rambling pep talks. “In every way, you are moving to a better place,” she’d write. “Remember, if you stay home, nothing much will happen, but if you go out, your world could change!” “In case anyone has taken you for granted, or assumes you’d never leave, with Uranus on your Sun you will do the opposite of what anyone supposes you’ll do! Good!”

With Uranus on your Sun—we felt astral just saying it out loud! But there was too big a difference between our shabby self and the “you” of Susan’s imagination. She seemed to confuse us with a self-employed homeowner with rich friends—a freelancer with a publicist, an import-export business, and chronic dental issues. We checked her site less often, and when we did we saw Susan checking out, too: Susan is ill this month, read the text in place of our usual forecast. She pled carpal tunnel, wrist pain, bowel pain; grief over the death of her mother, Little Mom. Increasingly, she posted late. The fashion people got angry. “People are not dumb,” said an exasperated Upper East Side energy healer slash life coach to a reporter for the New York Post. “How it is possible to have another excuse every month? It’s become too hard to wait a week or two for everything to be launched. When you decide to be a public servant, you need to honor that.”