The rise of social media astrology: an old phenomenon made new

Astrology has found new footing in the 21st century through the wonderful world of the internet.

Social media is consistently condemned for many of society’s problems. It can be a place of hatred and bullying, of trolling and mental instability. But it can also be a place of love and community. I truly believe that many social media astrologers simply want to help. The resurgence of this controversial practice is perfect for the ever-evolving nature of the internet. My first real foray into modern astrology begins with a woman named Maria. She has dark cropped hair and eyes that look deep into my soul. Or that’s what the woman in the stock image on her website looks like. I’m not sure how people find their spiritual guides but her offer of a free tarot card reading makes her the perfect choice for me. According to her LinkedIn profile she has a master’s degree in Mysticism from UMU, a Swedish university that no longer teaches mysticism or maybe never did.  ‘I can solve all the problems that are ruining your life!’ Maria exclaims when I click on my reading link, which suspiciously took only two hours to get via email. Apparently it’s destiny that I contacted her. I thought it was just cynical curiosity.  My first card is The Magician, the second is The Fool and the third is the Wheel of Fortune. This means I have the potential for luck and success. Of course. But Maria also tells me these three together have very malevolent effects. ‘You mustn’t let yourself become an impotent victim of your harmful environment.’ Lucky for me, Maria is offering a seven-card tarot draw for only £79! If I didn’t want to choose to pay the first time, I could click the five other links she’s given me in my one page of tarot reading. I think the three cards are enough for me. My journey with Maria doesn’t end there. Since I received my tarot reading, Maria has gracefully offered help in an email every day. ‘The stakes are enormous’ she says. I can’t ‘keep being a victim!’ and she is begging me to act. Aside from the constant emails, I don’t have a problem with Maria. I like to believe there’s a good intention behind it all. Whether Maria actually exists is a different question.  Is this a computer program selecting random readings from a database? Would I receive the same processed response if I paid £79 for four more cards? Reviews of her website begin with catchy headlines like “Maria Scammer!!! Not Maria Medium!!!” and “SCAM SCAM SCAM” so I’m clearly not the only one with reservations. The reviews she publishes on her own website all curiously sound like the same person, consistently rating four stars between every five so as not to be too obvious. Endless searching has me running in circles around accounts created for the medium, from Pinterest, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and even her own website in Spanish. They’re all set up to make her seem like a real person. A real person who is asking for real money from real people. It’s giving me a headache.  At this point I want to find a genuine online astrologer. Someone who will respond to questions and comments. Someone who has more than three photos of themselves posted online. Someone whose job it is to read the planets and determine how a person should act. A look on social media brings up a long list of people with ‘spiritual advisor’, ‘tarot reader’, and ‘psychic medium’ in their bios. It’s difficult to know where to start.  What is astrology? Despite its many criticisms, the basics of astrology do seem to offer a direction for life and decisions. The practice has become even more popular with the advent of social media astrology. Twitter accounts with tens of thousands of followers spout spiritual rhetoric categorising people and behaviours by their signs. These social media astrologers give advice about why you’re feeling more emotional than usual, when to devote time to family or home life, and when to act on career goals. All of this from the planetary alignments. A simple online search floods the page with the foreign language of ‘moon in Capricorn’, ‘Aries rising’, ‘ascendant in Sagittarius’. I’m quickly finding out that a quick look on social media won’t teach me enough to understand astrology and all its complexities. So what is astrology?

Astrology seeks to understand and predict behaviour through the influence of celestial objects such as the Sun, Moon and the planets, analysed by movement of the signs. The Zodiac, not the infamous serial killer, is an area of sky divided into twelve signs roughly corresponding to the constellations Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces. With palm readings, crystal healing and tarot cards, astrology encompasses a series of ‘paranormal’ and ‘divine’ communications. Supposedly.  You probably already know your sun sign as your main sign, which rules your ego, identity and role in life. The moon sign rules emotions, moods and feelings and your rising sign is the mask you present to people and how you come off to others. There are eight other planet signs that supposedly determine how you exist as a human being. They’ve really got everything covered from power to innovation. Scientists and astronomers alike have debunked astrology consistently as a pseudoscience with little benefit to our lives. Others disagree.  Despite its deep roots in the ancient world of Mesopotamia, Astrology has a consistent resurgence every couple of decades. From the alternative thinking of the 60s known as the ‘Age of Aquarius’ or the New Age, to the darker side of the satanism craze throughout the 80s and 90s, astrology has existed in our minds since the days of Nostradamus. The likes of Mystic Meg and Russell Grant have been gracing the pages of The Sun and the Daily Express with their horoscope predictions for years. Yet as we moved into the new millennium, the horoscope and its many divine counterparts became a laughing matter. The internet takes over In the usual ways of the internet, something ridiculed becomes a trend. There are countless Instagram and Twitter accounts sharing astrology memes, comparing star signs to Batman characters, dog breeds, early 2000s teen shows, and even types of bread. I’m a Libra and a pita bread by the way.

​But memes aren’t the only source of astrology online. A community of astrology lovers exists all over social media, and Twitter is at the epicentre. “Astrology is such an important & powerful tool I can’t stress it enough! All you sceptics better put some respect on astrologers & this practice that’s OLDER THAN RELIGION” tweets user sheslulu. The inherently social nature of these sites means people can learn from others, correct each other, and treat astrology as bordering on religion. Though worship involves crystals instead of crosses. However, the way people use astrology differs from person to person. For some it helps to make decisions, reassures their beliefs, and for others it informs relationships. User calumsaries for example says that Libras are romantic and because our ruling planet is Venus, meaning we “love pampering [our] loved ones, although sometimes [we] can be TOO lazy and get detached too quickly.” A description just vague enough to apply to almost anyone, I’d rather believe I more closely relate to a type of bread.  Yet, some people are more fanatical about astrology than others. In a recent viral tweet, an American woman was rejected from a housing application because she was a Capricorn. The rejection read: “I love Capricorns, but I don’t think I could live with one… This Virgo/Gemini house is a special place where soft mutable signs get to run free untethered by cardinal authorities.” In response to this a writer for Vice’s Broadly and astrologer Annabel Gat called for people to “stop using astrology for evil.” She says, “astrology is not a tool for dismissing people or experiences, or a scapegoat on which to blame all your problems and decisions.”  Blame is common issue within astrology. When the Notre-Dame Cathedral caught fire on 15th of April, astrology Twitter was rife with claims not only that Nostradamus predicted the fire, but that the planetary placements at the time match those of the Great Fire of London in 1666, which he also supposedly predicted. As usual, these statements were met with backlash from the more science-oriented users. Astronomer Max Fagin lashed out at believers promoting the concepts of astrology in the wake of the fire. “Stop trying to pollute this horrible tragedy with nonsense.” He says that “the pretence that horrible tragedies were portended after the fact” is one of the most harmful things about astrology. It becomes a reckless practice promoting little-to-no autonomy and a lack of helpful solutions. The controversy stems further into how astrology is beneficial or constructive to the individual in general. For this, I turned to Twitter. A prominent Twitter astrologer goes by the moniker Starheal. Amy Tripp, as she’s more commonly known outside of the internet, has over 65,000 followers who hang onto her every word for guidance. She uses astrology to understand other people, their “drives, motives, insecurities, strengths” as well as to learn more about herself. “I find that being aware of your birth chart and how you are built is important,” she says.  To her social media astrology is “mostly positive” but it allows everyone to claim to be an ‘expert’. She agrees the memes can be funny but also “show a different way of understanding astrology, appealing to different audiences.” Whether the need to be categorised as a type of bread is part of this, I don’t know.   Amy fell into astrology “by accident.” She “was going through a difficult time” and wanted to see if a reading could help. But when she realised traditional horoscope readings can be extortionate in price, she decided to learn astrology herself. “I was intrigued and wanted to teach myself, so I started learning astrology one day and never stopped.” Despite the ridicule astrology receives, it seems that it is often an avenue for those in a negative situation to explore. “Astrology does shed light on potential mental health concerns.” Amy believes that “certain transits can trigger periods of depression, obsession, addictions, delusions etc.”  Whether the placement of the moon and planets can really determine your mood, or levels of serotonin are a factor, is a debated subject in the astrology community.

A BBC journalist interested in astrology, says she worries about using it as a legitimate mental health treatment. “It is incredibly deterministic, can remove autonomy from vulnerable adults and is very costly,” she tweets. “Astrology often attracts those who are feeling lost or vulnerable and looking for direction.”  In my research I joined the ‘Astrology Guidance’ Facebook group, which boasts over 50,000 members. Like Twitter, theirs is a language I just don’t understand. Especially those that are actual foreign languages like Malaysian and Hindi. It’s the countless pictures of people’s palms, hoping to get a reading they otherwise couldn’t afford, and asking questions for reassurance from a group who believe the same principles. That’s what social media astrology is giving people. More access. Access that doesn’t necessitate a debit card or qualifications.  The most surprising side of social media astrology though is the moments when people ask for medical help. “Lung cancer is caused by which planet?” one asks, as over 30 comments reply that it’s an imbalance in the fourth house. One person asks whether their chart can determine an aids diagnosis and another about which planet combination causes chicken pox. It’s a baffling experience, and a worrying one to boot.   Astrology as an alternative therapy Alternative therapies have never been a strange thing to me. I grew up with my mum and her homeopathic bible, taking pulsatilla tablets and whispering my every thought to Guatemalan worry dolls. I’ve been to a psychic reading and I own a crystal dowsing pendulum. In fact, I own a lot of crystals. And yet, I’m still sceptical to the omnipresent effects of astrology.  Natural remedies face similar scepticism but have been used since the dawn of time. The idea that the body can heal itself is not an odd one. But to act as if rubbing a crystal can cure cancer or increase a chemical in the brain is dangerous.  “If therapist and healthcare providers used astrology to study human behaviours we wouldn’t have all these little kids drugged on pills hooked to big pharma propaganda,” says sheslulu, our favourite Twitter astrologer and Scorpio. “The fact that seven year olds are being prescribed sedating/concentration meds is terrifying.” She believes that those children who are a “little more active than most” have “heavy Gemini/Sagittarius energy” and simply need constant stimulation and activity. There is a certain logic to this thinking but relying on astrology to treat or understand ADHD is foolish and taking medical advice from a stranger on Twitter seems even more so.  Another social media astrologer is Alexis, who runs a blog called ayyriesastrology. Like many young adults online, Alexis got involved in astrology through the memes and their popularity on sites like Tumblr. “I was curious on why and how something considered inaccurate was still popular. I began studying it to disprove it… and now I’m going to be a professional astrologer.” However, she highly recommends not to use astrology in mental health treatment or diagnosis. “I think astrology can help IF the astrologer has credentials to handle mental illness, through a psychology degree, training in counselling and more.”  Alexis herself uses astrology to “cultivate authenticity within the self. I think astrology works beautifully in helping people, especially young people, rediscover and love themselves.” Whether social media encourages this is questionable, but she does think “astrology being involved with social media was inevitable” and some “are only interested in astrology because it’s popular and aesthetically pleasing.”  “I honestly think astrology has had a huge resurgence because religion and science are not comforting us as well as they used to. We live in a society where we are not encouraged to be ourselves, and with natal astrology in particular, it encourages the opposite: to be ourselves and astrology provides the key to self-discovery.”  Why are young people so invested in astrology? ‘Aesthetic’ has become a way of life for young people. The need for things to look ‘pretty’ and perfectly aligned has come about with the likes of the social media famous, and astrology has become an ‘aesthetic’ in itself. The star signs are a common tattoo, they’re pendants in Topshop, they grace the front covers of notebooks and diaries in Paperchase. It seems crystals are bought and sold more frequently now than ever before. Is it this that entices young people to astrology?

So why are young people so invested in social media astrology? Is it the ability to blame our flaws on some far off planet and the way it was positioned at birth? An aesthetically pleasing fad that’ll die out by next year? Or is it a sense of belonging? An online community that promotes positivity and self-help? The collective nature of Twitter is one of fatalist jokes and self-deprecation. Young adults and millennials are experiencing a deteriorating world. Terrorist attacks, school shootings and natural disasters are at the forefront of the news cycle. And Twitter’s trending page. The instability of modern governments and lack of public resources lead to a sense of helplessness expressed in pessimistic jokes and memes. Is astrology simply a method to combat these feelings?

Social media is consistently condemned for many of society’s problems. It can be a place of hatred and bullying, of trolling and mental instability. But it can also be a place of love and community. I truly believe that many social media astrologers simply want to help. The resurgence of this controversial practice is perfect for the ever-evolving environment of social media, where debates and interpretations are welcomed, and traditional astrology is given the respect many people believe it deserves. Whether Twitter and Instagram will be rife with predictions and memes by next year, I couldn’t say for sure. Maybe I’ll tell my worry dolls about it.

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