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What’s your sign?

staff note

One of the first things I consciously remember reading as a child was a book on zodiacs. Dec. 4, 1998 — I was born a Sagittarius, the archer, a mutable fire sign with a “penchant for travel and the outdoors.” The Sagittarius is often signified by a centaur holding a bow and arrow, and is, in general, “idealistic, adventurous and energetic.” Sagittarius is most compatible with Leo, Aquarius and Aries, least compatible with Capricorn, Virgo and Pisces. The corresponding constellation is the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. In many ways, even though I was still young and highly impressionable, I identified with these traits — not on experiential grounds, but through a sort of intrinsic sensibility — and simultaneously internalized them.

It goes without saying that astrology has no scientific basis. As one of the oldest forms of cultural topos, the observation of stars has been constant in ancient civilizations both in the East and West. Astrology largely filled practical needs, including predicting floods and famines; these cosmological portents served to satisfy the very human desire to foresee and explain. In astrology’s evolution, it has come to reveal complexities surrounding character, the future and relationship patterns, through the shorthand of the zodiac and its representative symbols as connected to the cosmos.

But on the matter of philosophy, astrology can be approached through its synchronicity — its quality as a series of meaningful coincidences, as theorized by humanist psychologist Carl Jung. In many ways, Jung’s idea of synchronicity is almost convincing — most of my friendships have been with Aquariuses and Leos, and some of my worst enemies, well, Capricorns. Jung also viewed astrology as a categorization of paradigmatic traits observed by the collective unconscious of all humans. People then become reduced to archetypes, grouped by their positioning on the astral calendar. But the theory of synchronicity seems to offer no more than to acknowledge the perceived significance of coincidences, and to be satisfied with that alone does not feel substantial enough.

Astrology’s reliance on signage to communicate its language risks universalizing experiences across cultures. All that I can really ascertain from my sign is a common experience shared between me and others of the same sign — we’re all apparently thriving in our love lives and are struggling professionally — but the social, economic and cultural differences are entirely overlooked. Of course, this is not just an issue with astrology; any form of generalized categorization runs this risk. The multitude of signs and symbols seek to paint a detailed tableau of an individual’s life, but the signs only reveal so much. And as we see them today, they ignore the experiences of non-Western audiences. It’s no surprise, then, that generalized personality descriptors can be so widely applicable yet say absolutely nothing about a person.

Astrology fell out of fashion with the rise of theology and, later, science during the Enlightenment. In the late 1960s, the practice experienced a revival brought about by the New Age movement, characterized by a fascination with the supernatural and metaphysical. It became increasingly popular for newspapers and magazines to publish horoscopes, making astrology more accessible to the general public. The New York Times published a series on Nancy Reagan’s fascination with astrology in the ‘80s, which was then filed under “Superstition and Witchcraft.” Though experiencing a resurgence, astrology still had strong links to the underbelly of the occult.

Today, astrology is as much a profitable business as it is a mystical practice or means of assuaging the anxieties of everyday life. Online quizzes and listicles link signs to anything from movie characters to Starbucks beverages to dog breeds. Star signs have become so entangled with personal identity that they appear at the forefront of social media and dating profiles alike. Twitter zealously greeted the recent onset of Scorpio season and the empowerment of the “passionate, vengeful, ouija board-loving” sign-bearers — leaving it to Mercury’s retrograde to spoil all the fun. If before, astrology helped inform patterns of being, now they inform the most frivolous of consumer and social choices. 

During those early formative years when I first discovered astrology, I did my best to fit within the mould of the Sagittarius, but it became pretty evident that the expanse of my personality could not be contained by generalized descriptors, and into my teens, I considered them silly and pointless. But I have found myself, as of late, consulting my horoscope on a pretty much daily basis, and have been using it as a tool for self-reflection and relaxation. The nice thing about astrology is that it provides a framework for social and personal orientation, but allows the individual to fill in the blanks themselves. You can’t live and die by the positioning of the stars, but it’s nice to have a harmless scapegoat when everything seems to be going wrong. 

Astrology’s appeal and intrigue lies in its paradoxical nature. It can feel both personal and universal, rational and spiritual. Although I’m not exactly an astrological apologist, in times of great uncertainty, as vast and boundless as the universe itself, I find comfort in connecting small moments in the space of my everyday to the small specks of light where I am reflected in the space of the universe.

Sarah Derris is a Trinity junior and Recess local arts editor.

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