Astrology at Oberlin
ZOE JASPER // MARCH 8, 2019
“Sometimes it’s hard to say or know what we mean. Give yourself time and space to work things out carefully. You’re having trouble expressing yourself right now.” I read this line of my daily Co-Star horoscope and it immediately rings true. When I attempt to express why I place so much value in my astrological chart, I can’t find an answer that feels right. Astrology is a fun and silly way for me to understand myself and others, but could it also contain hidden depths of spirituality?
According to Time, astrology can be traced back to several ancient civilizations. In ancient China, noblemen looked at eclipses and sunspots to predict the future of their emperor’s daily life. By the middle of the second millennium BCE, the Sumerians and Babylonians kept track of where the gods were in the sky by observing the positions of planets and stars. In Mesoamerica, the Aztec and Maya calendars had different cycles for the sun, moon, Venus, and possibly Mars, Mercury, and Jupiter. However, it was the ancient Greeks who set in stone the twelve star signs en vogue today. Back then, astrology was used to do anything from “working out the most fortunate time to get married, making financial deals, or assisting in the soul’s ascent to the afterlife” (Huffington Post). Today, we use astrology for the equally important task of determining compatibility with our crushes.
In our modern era where hard scientific evidence largely determines how we make sense of the world, what real value does astrology have to offer?
“[Astrology] kind of just slid its way into my life,” said second-year Olivia Guerriero. “There are so many memes about it. And so many people around me into it. It became a part of my speech patterns, ’cause so many people around me were describing things in terms of the stars, which is kind of an addicting thing.”
For college students at Oberlin, there is no denying that astrology has become imbued in our cultural discourse. Astrology has a dominant presence online, from the highly successful Co-Star app, and the whimsical @astropoets of Twitter, to the endless onslaught of memes based on the signs. Perhaps it is just a fleeting internet trend, no more significant than Vine or Tik Tok, but it certainly provides us with fodder for conversation and connection.
Second-year Grace McAllister emphasizes astrology’s role as a social tool: “I think astrology is so prominent in Oberlin culture because it’s a way for people to connect with each other in a low-stakes way and test the waters of conversation. I see people connecting over it all the time.”
However, not everyone wants to have their charts read. A 2017 study by Pew Research Centre found that in the US, twenty percent of adult men believed in astrology, compared to thirty-seven percent of women. Astrology is not based on scientific evidence or rational thinking, but a holistic process of connecting the cosmos with our emotions, personalities, and relationships. Without hard evidence to back it up, astrology is often dismissed and its believers patronized, especially by straight cis men. Underlying their steadfast belief in science is men’s toxic fear of engaging with anything feminine and mystical, let alone taking it seriously.
Second-year Francesca Mansky concurs that “there’s nothing worse than a man who shits on astrology. But maybe part of astrology’s prominence in Oberlin is that this place allows things that are shit on by dudes to have a little more space.”
Unfortunately, the cultural association of astrology with women and queer people has not been lost on businesses. The Daily Hunch sells personalized horoscopes for $5 a month, and Bite Beauty has a line of lipsticks to match each zodiac sign. Along with astrology, traditional and ritual practices of magic have been rebranded as trendy products. Just last fall, Sephora came under fire for their $42 “Starter Witch Kit” that packaged “objects associated with New Age beliefs, divination, and indigenous practices together in one box” (Vox).
Guerriero enjoys astrology but acknowledges its ability to snowball into exploitation. “I think it is totally like coopting spiritualism to fit a college aesthetic. It definitely goes hand in hand with having a tapestry on your wall, burning incense, and appropriating other cultures.”
Despite its flaws and critiques, perhaps astrology is more than a superficial trend. According to data from the CIRP Freshman Survey, the number of college students with no religious affiliation has tripled in the last thirty years, from ten percent in 1986 to thirty-one percent in 2016. As much of our generation rejects organized religion, perhaps college students are left searching for meaning and spirituality in other places, but without restrictive structure and expectations. While the earth is literally burning around us, politics are post-apocalyptic, and capitalism leaves us feeling exhausted and inadequate, astrology can provide a connection to something greater. It allows us to make sense of the overwhelming and chaotic universe without adhering to organized religion.
“Sometimes [my horoscope] is exactly what I need to hear and so validating. It’s a reminder that what’s happening to me is cosmic instead of my own doing,” said second-year Talia Putnoi. “Maybe it takes some responsibility off me, which I find lightens the load.”
Whether astrology is merely inspiration for funny memes or a legitimate spiritual practice, I’d like to leave you with the knowledge that the Greek word kosmos is best translated into English as “beautiful order.”