A lot has changed in the past ten years. Maybe even more so than any other decade – or at least that’s how it feels. We’ve seen: the iPhone transform into an “essential”; the rise of memes as a new sort of language; dating apps transitioning from 'a bit weird/a sign you've given up' to normal. If we’re hungover, we can order a McDonalds cheeseburger directly to our bed. But another shift has occured, almost in discordance with those techy developments. So many of us – especially young people, and especially women and queer communities – have grown infatuated with the stars and planets. Astrology has become a defining trend of the 2010s.
It didn’t start out this way. At the turn of the decade, no one seemed to be asking for a deep reading of their Venus placement other than sixty-somethings in the healing fields at Glastonbury. But as each year passed, astrology inched ever closer to the mainstream. Horoscopes became a staple in most publications again (not just esoteric ones, or in the back of women’s print mags). Astrology-dedicated meme accounts like @notallgeminis and @astromemequeen became more prominent, as did astrology apps like Co-Star and The Pattern (by this summer, the former had racked up more than 5 million registered users). Fast fashion brands began selling celestial-themed accessories, and suddenly everyone knew their sun, moon and rising sign. A once-niche interest among new age aunts with chunky necklaces became an expected conversation starter on first dates.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when this happened. Anabel Gat, an ISAR-certified astrologer who has been writing horoscopes for VICE since 2015, thinks “pop astrology” (as in, the astrology you see in memes and in Urban Outfitters, rather than the astrology that has persisted since ancient times) really kicked into gear in conjunction with Instagram, and to a lesser degree, Tumblr. In other words, the more “online” we became, the more astrology flourished. “Somewhere between late 2012 to early 2015 it became very clear to me that people love astrology accounts and astrology memes,” she tells me over Skype. “Astrology has always been popular. There has always been an occult section at the bookstore. There have always been astrology conferences. But the internet, and having the internet on our phones in our pockets, made it so much more accessible.”
Tali Edut, one half of astrological sister duo The Astro Twins, who've been writing horoscopes professionally since 2001, agrees with Gat. Over voice note, she tells me that people have always been obsessed with astrology, but in the last five to ten years, platforms like Instagram have pushed the practice even further into the public sphere. “I think it took a conversation that was already being had in private, and pushed it into the zeitgeist,” she explains. “And apps like Co-Star have allowed people to calculate their birth charts really fast, and have done an amazing job of giving people bite-sized information that’s enough to get them interested in more than just their sun sign.”
Even then, it took a while for astrology to infiltrate the mainstream in quite the way it has more recently. The seeds of pop astrology may have grown in the first half of the decade, but they well and truly flourished in the second. As Gat tells me, “When VICE hired me to write horoscopes, it was definitely a cutting-edge thing to do. I was the first person I knew that was writing our kind of daily horoscopes. Of course devoted astrology sites, like Susan Miller, had their horoscopes. But this was a non-astrology site.” She continues: “Then I would say from 2017 or 2018, every other media company wanted their own horoscopes.”
Gat’s right. As I wrote in a piece earlier this year, the astrological boom seemed to properly peak in 2017 and 2018 – and it’s still peaking. By 2018, publications like The Guardian, The Atlantic and New York Times were reporting on a millennial obsession with astrology. Earlier this year, Fast Company published a piece on how astrology had infiltrated workplace culture, while in The New Yorker Christina Smallwood theorised that astrology was thriving among people in their twenties because these were uncertain times, and we needed something to cling on to. “The popularity of astrology is often explained as the result of the decline of organised religion and the rise of economic precariousness,” she wrote. “Then, there’s the matter of political panic. In times of crisis, it is often said, people search for something to believe in.”
Plenty of people think the same thing: that astrology became popular among young people in the 2010s because our lives were in disarray, or at least confusing. Data shows that millennials are poorer than previous generations, that one in three of us in the UK will never own a home, that one in five of us in the UK have two or more jobs. Factor in the notion that religious beliefs have been in steady decline both here in the UK and in the US, and it’s no wonder young people are looking outside of themselves, to the stars and the planets, for some sort of clarity. That's compounded further when you consider how popular astrology can be among women and queer folk. These are social groups who may harbour a stronger desire for alternative systems and spiritualities offering support or community, on account of living under patriarchy's thumb.
A lot of astrologers, however, don’t always fully buy this theory. To them, the internet and social media have made “pop astrology” more prevalent, for sure, but people have always turned to the stars and planets for answers. “I don’t think astrology before was as niche as journalists tend to think,” Edut of the Astro Twins tells me. Gat echoes a similar sentiment: “Growing up in New York City, most of my friends were into astrology. People have always liked it. I don’t think more people like astrology now.”
This might be the case in the sorts of communities both Edut and Gat were exposed to, but it’s hard to deny that astrology became one of the biggest and most unexpected trends of the 2010s. It's been everywhere. So, what next? Has astrology reached a sort of saturation point? Has capitalism once again killed all the fun? Neither Gat nor Edut think astrology, as a practice, is going anywhere. As they say, it’s been around for centuries, so why would that suddenly halt? “I do think people are going to get a little sick of cheeky memes which are kind of basic after a while,” wonders Edut. “And the people who are just in it just for the lols will fade away.”
“But I think the trend in astrology has been big enough to provoke a cultural shift. And if anything, I think astrology might be taken a little more seriously,” she says. At this point, it's hard to tell whether Edut's prediction will come true. On the one hand, as the popularity of astrology has risen, so has it's pushback – especially among cishet men it seems. But on the other, their voices no longer have to be the loudest anymore. And while memes and zodiac necklaces might wane with the trends, astrology itself is unlikely to truly go away now that it's already infiltrated the mainstream quite so spectacularly.