Looking to the stars: Millennials turn to astrology to better understand their lives
It’s not compatible with scientific thinking, but more and more millennials see the alignment of planets and stars as the cure for what ails their generation.
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Kim Edgar presides over a small group of 20- and 30-somethings in the back of Common People Shop, a curated boutique in Toronto’s West Queen West. They have braved the frigid February weather to seek wisdom and guidance from the stars.
The 28-year-old looks every bit the trendy millennial: tattoos, facial piercing, cropped hair, brown corduroy overalls with a smartphone in the front pocket.
Her two-hour, $15 workshop, Astrology 101, covers the three types of astrological signs and their meanings, how to read a natal chart to divine where various heavenly bodies were at the moment of your birth, the relationships between those planets (called “aspects”) and what all that says about a person’s personality and lot in life.
Younger adults are buying what she’s selling.
More and more millennials see Western astrology — equal parts self-reflective therapy, pseudo-religion and meme-tastic trend — as the cure for what ails their generation.
Toronto-based astrologer Tara Greene has seen a boom in her business in the past few years, thanks in large part to growing interest from young clients.
Though she is in her 60s, Greene has tailored her online presence to appeal to a much younger demographic. Recently, her Twitter was dominated by the natal chart she’d constructed for reality star Kylie Jenner and Travis Scott’s new baby. (Venus and Juno in her seventh house indicate beauty and genius and a likely destiny as a “trophy wife;” the moon in Virgo predicts she’ll suffer from digestive problems and a have a tendency to worry excessively; Neptune in Pisces means she’ll be naturally artistic and musical. In case you are wondering.)
Greene consulted for the Canadian luxury lipstick brand Bite Beauty to come up with the colours and branding for its new line of astrology-themed lipsticks. One new shade is set to be released, with a splash of Instagram marketing, each month in 2018. The first, Aquarius, a deep purple, sold out almost instantly.
Entrepreneurs have gotten wind of the trend and are capitalizing on it. Bryanna Collier, 32, the Canadian fashion blogger who created Star Crossed Style, which “focuses on the correlation between the way that people dress and their birth chart,” and Liz Worth, a 35-year-old Torontonian with a hip esthetic who has a great hustle going with astrology workshops, talks and home parties, are just two examples.
More than that, it’s seeped into the culture: Even superstar Olympic ice dancer Tessa Virtue attributes her stubborn nature to being a Taurus.
“(Astrology) has gotten huge because of the internet," Greene said. “People just want to have a sense of understanding the world, a sense of something that’s traditional.”
Young women especially are “yearning for spiritual knowledge,” but not organized religion, she added.
Edgar, for her part, is admittedly an amateur. She’s been studying astrology intensively for six months.
Not that it’s possible, exactly, to become an astrology expert. Western astrology — the particular practice of interpreting the movements and positions of celestial bodies as having influence on human affairs — emerged in what is now Iraq about 4,000 years ago and was most famously codified by Ptolemy in the second century AD.
It’s not compatible with scientific thinking or even common sense: Research shows astrologers’ predictions are no better than random chance, and, in the words of Carl Sagan, the gravity applied to your body by the doctor delivering you has a far greater influence on your life than the gravity of planets billions of kilometres away.
How, then, has it become so popular among the best-educated generation of Canadians?
Scientific literacy in Canada is great overall, compared to other countries. However, surveys, including one commissioned in 2017 by the Ontario Science Centre, have found that anti-scientific beliefs, such as the idea that vaccines cause autism, are more prevalent among 20- and 30-somethings than older adults.
But compared to something of that ilk, astrology, despite being “debunked for several hundred years,” is fairly innocuous, said Jesse Hildebrand, founder of Science Literacy Week, which is celebrated across the country in September and run by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
“Directly telling people ‘You are so wrong, this is so anti-scientific, get a grip’ ... makes people defensive,” he said.
It’s not entirely surprising that millennials are turning to astrology for comfort in a time of near-constant bad news, he added, suggesting the cohort’s endless appetite for social media — with its all-you-can-eat buffet of alternative facts — is the reason they’re so into the pseudo-science.
Patrice James, 28, lives and breathes astrology on social media. She founded the Facebook group Astrology 101 Zone last April. It swelled to 1,600 members with virtually no effort on her part.
Astrology is a huge part of her life — she looks at her astrological calendar each morning as she plans her day. She created the group because she wanted a safe space to discuss that passion with other enthusiasts.
“Astrology gives me all this important information about myself and how I function in the world, how I function among my friends at work. It just makes sense. I thought I was nuts — but it’s really just how the planets were.”
Astrology, she says, can help make sense of almost any struggle. A recent discussion on the group focused on the Jan. 31 lunar eclipse and how it could interfere with sleep.
James runs a small home-services business, and she partially credits astrology with its success.
“I’m not just saying astrology is the reason I started my business. Astrology was the push. It gave me the confidence,” she said. The stars said it was a good day to start.
She said the group fills some of the same needs — spirituality, community — as church, except “church reminds me of school.”
“When you’re first graduated, going out on your own, it’s the first big test of your life. A lot of people in my group are around (that stage of their lives),” she said.
A hot topic in James’ group — and young stargazers generally — is the dreaded “Saturn return” — the season of life around 27 to 33 years of age, when Saturn has made a full orbit around the sun and has come back to the position it was at the time of your birth. According to lore, it’s when debts come due, mistakes catch up with you, and long-delayed adult responsibilities can’t be put off any longer.
Back at Edgar’s workshop, Edgar asks if anyone is having a Saturn return forcing them to “adult.” Whether it’s really Saturn doing that — or, more likely, the pressures of transitioning to adulthood — doesn’t change the fact that for some, challenges seem a little easier to handle if you accept that they’re written in the stars.
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