College Student Turns to Astrology For Answers

When Ariel Smith, a young college student, entered her 20s she turned toward the stars while grappling with her future.

With increased uncertainty, many lean into alternative practices to make sense of our world. Graphic created by Ariel Smith.

When Entering Adulthood, Where do We Turn To?

This week I turned 20. As I enter this new season of my life, I have found myself frequently wondering what my future has in store. I’m still single, working a customer service job, and stumbling my way around campus too anxious to raise my hand. When will I be working in media? When will I be married? Where will I live when I graduate? These are all big questions that I don’t know the answer to.

Like many young students, I have Co-Star downloaded on my phone. It’s a small widget delivering cryptic messages based on my signs that supposedly predict whether I will be lucky in love that day, battle my insecurities, or get angry at work. It’s diet astrology. Unable to answer the bigger questions but able to tackle their smaller cousins.

As the clock struck twelve I found myself opening the app, decrypting its messages, and seeing how my special day would go. But its generic messages telling me to reflect on the past year left me unsatisfied. I became curious about the origins of astrology and its more serious practitioners and quickly fell down a rabbit hole of research.

Your sun, moon, and rising sign and how they contribute to your personality according to astrologers. Graphic created by Ariel Smith.

The Study of the Stars

Astrology is the study of the stars and their influence on our lives and world. Its roots can be traced back nearly 5,000 years to the 3rd Millennium BC. In ancient times its influence was immeasurable. Astrology was used by churches and alluded to in the Bible. Charts of the stars were drawn at birth and major life events. The ones drawn at birth are called birth charts, this is what most astrologers will look at if you do an online consultation or walk into a psychic shop. The ones drawn at events like marriage, divorce, or the birth of a child are called progressed charts. According to tarot.com astrologers can create more accurate predictions of more specific periods in your life by comparing the progression of the stars to their placement in your birth chart.

Early rabbis also engaged in the practice of astrology, believing it to be a way God channeled spiritual forces into the physical realm. But the practice is now forbidden as it is believed to be easily misread or misused. Instead, followers are instructed to listen to prophets to hear of God’s will. As time passed many religions and institutions shifted from embracing the practice to rejecting it vehemently, calling it satanic or pagan.

How strongly many churches condemn astrology took me by surprise. To me it was just a fun little conversation starter. I knew that opinions on astrology varied wildly. That some dismissed it immediately as pseudoscience and some regarded it as gospel but its treatment as a threat took me by surprise. To me astrology simply provided guidance for the future, making it very similar in nature to prophets or prophecy. Some have criticized it for not leading to identical lives in twins, but those who engage with the practice of astrology state that it merely influences life events and does not take away free will which accounts for individual differences regardless of the stars. The idea of astrology removing free will, God’s will, or signaling a desire to manipulate the future is why many religions reject it.

Now that I had learned much more about the history of astrology and its controversies, I looked into the more lighthearted aspects that I was familiar with. The sort of information you discuss with your favorite coworkers or when talking to a stranger you just met at a party: the 12 signs.

The 12 zodiac signs and the dates assigned to them. Graphic created by Ariel Smith.

Looking Beyond Your Sun Sign

The most well-known aspect of astrology are the sun signs. It’s the one you are probably familiar with, even if you are one to reject conversation on it immediately. Your sun sign is determined by your birth date and is as follows: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces. Your sun sign is believed to be responsible for the essence of your personality. Short general characteristics are applied to the sun signs. For example, you may have heard that Aquarians are weird or Libras are flirty.

They are broad traits that are easy to whip out to break the ice with a stranger. I believe that this contributes to astrology’s rise in popularity over the pandemic, with how hard it has been to see a stranger in the flesh much less speak to them. The quick conversation starter of astrology has helped me and my friends out. When a new person gets hired at work we guess what their sign is until we finally speak to them and ask. It has become generation Zs weather talk.

Although the sun signs are quite fun, on a deeper dive into astrology, you will find you have a sign for every planet in our solar system, the moon, and a handful of other celestial bodies. The further away from earth you get the less likely you are to hear people discuss the sign. People rarely discuss their Neptune or Uranus sign, because their orbit around the sun is much slower. Since they move around the sun so slowly they are believed to impact larger outcomes like those of a generation and their contribution to the world.

Even amongst those interested in astrology, it is rare to find someone who has more than their sun, moon, and rising memorized. While the sun affects your overall personality, your moon sign is believed to affect your emotions, and your rising is supposed to represent your first impression. The combination of the three is believed by some to give you the gist about a person, how they act, if they’re hot-headed, if they are social, etc.

After looking at the underlying history and meaning of different signs and their impact I found myself much more appreciative of the little widget on my phone. It may be broad and cryptic with vaguely Greco-Roman visuals but it is easily digestible. Instead of laboring over what my Aquarius sun, Aries moon, and Scorpio rising meant for my personality or if I would be extra emotional that day, I could simply look at my phone and see that something was happening with the moon’s placement in relation to the sun and take care to react less harshly to my surroundings, as it warned me that an Aries moon would make you more temperamental.

While I find it admirable that people are so interested in the practice, consulting experts, and having charts drawn I can simply not commit to engaging with the practice so seriously. I’m a busy student. I can’t afford to spend that much time or money on the practice. While I will not write it off completely or base my life around it, I still find it interesting nonetheless.

I will continue to bring it up in inappropriate situations and get a little too into the discussion, asking my managers or strangers what their signs are. But, I will maintain a slight skepticism and follow these discussions with an “It’s not real anyway,” however true that statement may be.

Reynolds Sandbox reporting by Ariel Smith

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