Long Reads

Why do so many millennial women read horoscopes?

Posted by
Emily Reynolds
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More and more young women are getting into astrology. Why?

Horoscopes have always, in some form or another, been in my life, although of course I can’t remember the first time I actually read one. Chances are I came across one in the back of the daily newspaper my gran used to buy, since they were right next to the cartoons. I don’t remember it, though, such was the passive background thrum of the whole thing.

Even as a teen, buying magazines like Shout and Bliss, I paid very little attention to the forecast in my horoscope – partly because I identified so little with my star sign. I’m a Virgo, which apparently makes me a logical, detail-oriented, analytical perfectionist. To me, an artistic teenager convinced I was going to grow up to be some kind of troubled, creative genius, these words were profoundly unsexy. I was always so jealous of my sister for being a Leo – her horoscope said she was passionate, extroverted, dramatic and stubborn. It didn’t matter that I very obviously possessed those traits myself. It mattered that the stars ordained it – which, for me, they emphatically did not.

The only time I really engaged with my horoscope was when I had a crush. Alongside numerology, magazine compatibility quizzes and online love calculators, into which I’d doggedly type two names until it declared we were 90% compatible, checking my horoscope was one of the ways I’d essentially lead myself on. The crushes never came to anything, obviously. But there was a strange kind of comfort in giving myself over to the complete nonsense of a Bliss horoscope or a random online calculator, despite – or perhaps because  – I knew it meant nothing at all. 

It’s difficult to say how many people believe in astrology, and hundreds of polls, surveys and studies have failed to produce an even vaguely consistent answer. 

But what we do know is that women are engaging with it more than ever before. Several major women’s websites now have daily and monthly horoscope columns; it’s no longer unfashionable to say you’re into astrology. “The signs as…” memes have taken over Twitter and Instagram feeds, as well as Tumblr dashboards: the signs as dips, as Game of Thrones or Parks and Rec or Skins or Brooklyn 99 characters, as superheroes, as ‘types of grandma’. 

For those who aren’t up to date on their rising or moon signs, or what those things apparently mean, the whole thing can seem incomprehensible: the kinds of pithy, self-referential memes that women have increasingly been making around mental health and relationships, transposed with jokes about Cancer moons and Mercury retrogrades and Venuses in Capricorn. But why the uptick in interest?

Sophie Mackintosh, 29, tells stylist.co.uk that she first got into astrology aged around 13 or 14. “I was having a very difficult time at school and experiencing my first crush (which did not go well) and I think I was just looking for some kind of order, a sense that everything would turn out okay,” she says.

“I would go into a shop and look at the little horoscopes at the back of a magazine. Reading them comforted me and gave me a sense of purpose, so I did it again and again. Then, a couple of years ago, I was going through a really stressful time and I started doing it again - with access to the internet and many more astrology resources, I became interested in the reasoning behind it, and started going much more in-depth, finding out a lot more.”

Mackintosh says that astrology makes her feel “calmer and more in control”. 

“It can be easy to feel powerless and unsure of the future, so horoscopes give me a real comfort in this sense. If I read a good horoscope I’ll feel really buoyed up and hopeful, and I’ll even mark special astrological dates on my calendar.

“Much of the appeal for me is on reflection and being empowered to make your own changes, to examine yourself and gain a better understanding of who you are, both your good behaviours and bad. it’s not about just waiting for something good to happen, but trying to be more receptive to how you can help your own life, be positive, harness energy or so on.” 

Christina McDermott-McGarrigle, 39, says that horoscopes help her “feel aligned”. 

“I’ve suffered from anxiety for most of my life, as well as coping with trauma from a number of emotionally abusive relationships. Plus, I run my own business, which is the most anxiety inducing thing you could ever wish to do,” she explains.  “As I get older, I find myself wanting to feel more in control of the situations I encounter in daily life, as well as feel empowered to do things like openly state my opinions and learn how to say ‘no’.”

But do the women reading horoscopes actually believe them? For some, like McDermott-McGarrigle, “believe is too strong a term”. 

“I try not to take them too seriously, as I’m aware that there’s so much confirmation bias which comes with these types of things,” she explains. “But I really value the insight and intelligence it takes for people to do astrology, and then put their findings out into the world for people like me to read.” 

Others, like Mackintosh, do believe in them – though she’s wary of more general ones in magazines or online. “But I do think that when you start getting more in-depth, things really start to resonate,” she adds. 

“My best friend did my birth chart for me, based on my exact time of birth, and some parts were scarily on-the-nose. Lots of things in nature are affected by the moon, for example (including us), so it doesn’t feel like a huge stretch for me to believe that there is some sort of planetary influence.” 

To illustrate, Mackintosh points to a reading that said the full moon in Scorpio was going to be “of huge significance” to her in 2017; the day after the full moon, she received an offer to publish her debut novel (Mackintosh’s novel, The Water Cure, is out in May this year). 

And it’s had an impact on her personal life, too.

“I ended a relationship that had seemed idyllic out of the blue, and couldn’t understand why for years, but then did some calculations and realised that Venus had been retrograde during that time, which only happens for a short period every year or so,” she says. 

“People believe in weirder things, and even if it all is made up, I don’t care - astrology has genuinely help me lead a better life and helped me gain a better understanding of myself, just through encouraging reflection, calmness and meditation. It also helps me think more positively, giving me a sense that there’s some ultimate ‘reason’, even if everything is f**king up.”

For many women, there also seems to be an element of rebellion to enjoying horoscopes. Astrology, like many other things – boy bands, rom-coms, reality TV, the colour pink – is generally considered to be an unserious, ‘girly’ pastime, frivolous and often undermined by men. McDermott-McGarrigle says that part of the appeal of astrology is that it’s a “big f**k you to patriarchy”. 

“There’s a sense of mysticism and female power around it,” she says. 

“[For lots of women], it’s because we want to find our own power and our own voices and then manifest these in a meaningful way,” she explains. “People have been doing astrology for years, but it’s so often dismissed precisely because it’s deemed to be feminine or ‘mumbo jumbo’.”

Writing this article, I scrolled through hundreds of posts about horoscopes; I even drew up my own natal chart. And although I don’t ‘believe’ in astrology per se – for one thing, I’m nothing like the fastidious, analytical Virgo my birth date suggests I should be – I started to understand exactly why it has such an appeal for so many people. In many cases, especially when I was reading about my rising and moon signs, it was a comfort to feel seen – to have something external confirm all those things about myself that I’m never quite sure of.

For me, however, that’s not always a good thing. Developing and maintaining a solid sense of self is something I’ve come to struggle with in my mid-twenties. I’ve shed the cocky self-assurance of my teens and early twenties, started to settle into a career I love but don’t necessarily know the exact direction of, and had relationships and friendships falter and end. In these circumstances, it can be easy to cling onto anything that confirms the story you tell yourself about your own life, whether that’s via a carefully curated Instagram feed or by diligently combing through every monthly horoscope you can get your hands on. 

When checking daily horoscopes, in fact, I found myself purposefully ignoring the things that didn’t fit in with my day or week’s plans, and fixating on those that did. For me, at least, there was a level of confirmation bias. I also found myself starting to subsume bad decisions into the stars: it’s much easier to say the reason you missed a deadline, or your personal life was a mess, is because Mercury was in retrograde than to actually own up to your own behaviour. 

But they did give me a different way to look at what I was doing; my immediate gut response to some of the things I read often acted like an emotional litmus test. I also identified with the women who wanted to push back against snobby male disapproval of something considered to be so innately “feminine”; like enthusiastically festooning my life with millennial pink, it felt like an interesting way of embracing something we’ve all been taught to reject or demean. But it was the comfort of the whole routine that made it obvious to me why so many millennial women love horoscopes. 

Adrift in our own lives, we don’t always know where we’re going, what we’re doing, or even how we feel. Astrology provides a kind of stability: the idea that everything might be actually happening for a reason, no matter how mundane or depressing that reason might be. 

That’s also why the question “do you believe in horoscopes?” is so difficult to answer, and why it’s the wrong question to be asking to begin with. ‘Belief’ in astrology doesn’t matter: the purpose isn’t ‘belief’. Because, in the end, we’re not really reading horoscopes because we think they can actually predict what our future looks like: we’re reading them because they safely let us buy into the idea that a happy future is guaranteed at all. 

Image: iStock