This article originally appeared on VICE UK
Astrology – once a niche interest consigned to kooky aunts with multiple necklaces – has gone mainstream. Actually, it's gone more than mainstream: it's peaked. For those who subscribe, it's the litmus test for potential hook-ups, the basis for all the best meme accounts and the thing some of us like to blame when our lives take chaotic turns. But whether you believe the planets govern us or not, you'll agree that it's inescapable.
With some notable exceptions (Co-Star, the popular and vicious astrology app, claims its horoscopes are algorithmically generated), astrology is written by people. The rise in astrology’s popularity has meant that contemporary astrologers have more demands on their time – they write columns for mainstream publications (rather than just in the back of newspapers, or niche mags), speak at conferences, and many do one-on-one online readings.
Still, a lot of us don't know what actually goes into writing horoscopes – training as an astrologer often takes several years – meaning the whole thing still feels kind of mysterious.
Claire Comstock-Gay, who writes weekly horoscopes for the Cut, emphasises that different people use different methods. It’s not as if there’s one secret way to be an astrologer. "I'll look at what's in the sky for the upcoming week – so where each planet is located in the zodiac, where the planets are located in relation to each other and what phases the moon will be in – and use that information to write a message for each sign," she explains. "Mine focus much less on what to expect in a practical sense, and more on what to expect to happen with your moods and emotions in the upcoming week."
Jessica Lanyadoo, who has been working in the field since 1994, says she has yet to miss a week since 2003, when she started writing weekly horoscopes for San Francisco Bay Guardian (she now does astrology stuff for all sorts of places, and has her own popular podcast, Ghost Of a Podcast). "I have a lot of routines," she tells me. "For most of my career, I've started at Aries, and go down the line to Pisces. But now I've started rolling a dice, just for my brain... If I were a better person, I would turn off social media. I get distracted – I [have to] set aside time to write."
For Lanyadoo and Comstock-Gay, astrology is a full-time job. But many other astrologers do it alongside another job, especially because working in astrology doesn't follow a typical career path. "I've been working full-time in offices for close to a decade, and I’ve been working in astrology for around seven years," says New York-based astrologer Shakirah Tabourn, who writes horoscopes for Girlboss and co-founded NFLUX, a magazine about astrology and queer culture. "It's been a lot to juggle. It’s been a good year for me, career-wise, but astrology has been hard to balance with my full-time job."
Tabourn says she tries to make it work. She wakes up first thing in the morning, at six or seven, and gets straight into astrology before anything else. "I have an astrology calendar. The moon moves through a sign in two-and-a-half days, so I’ll look at what planets it’s making contact with, and that’s what [my] horoscopes are often based off. I also do like an hour of work on my commute, so thank god for Google docs," she laughs. "For a while, I was writing daily horoscopes for each sign, and that was just a lot. I’d write them in weekly batches. I’m happy I’m not doing that anymore."
Just as the internet and social media has made it increasingly easy for casual fans to get into astrology beyond the sun signs, it’s also made it easier for skeptics to reach out directly to astrologers themselves. Astrology isn’t for everyone, says Lanyadoo. "If it's not your thing, it's not the only way to have self understanding or develop spiritually," she adds. "Astrology is so useful and interesting, why make shit up?"
She often directs skeptics to her booking form, where she does one-on-one consultations ("my readings work, knock on wood!"). Comstock-Gay has a similar attitude: "If I wanted to, I could spend all my time defending astrology to people who have misconceptions, but mostly I’m just not interested in persuading or converting people. It’s fine that not everyone likes astrology!"
From speaking to these astrologers, it’s clear that the craft can be all-encompassing and sometimes, just like any other job, close to boring. "I do notice a kind of cyclical exhaustion, where every couple of months I’ll feel like I’ve simply got nothing to say," says Comstock-Gay. "I've been writing horoscopes since 2012, and it can get tiring."
The freelance nature of astrology doesn't help. Many astrologers today are still figuring out where to draw the line in terms of writing horoscopes, additional work and other responsibilities outside of the celestial realm. The renaissance in astrology may have gotten swathes of the general population interested in it, but that interest hasn’t always translated into better treatment of astrologers themselves. Publications hiring astrologers to write horoscopes full time is still relatively novel, as are practices like having astrologers at pop-ups or launch events.
"In the way that it’s been happening in the last couple of years, hiring astrologers is quite new," says Tabourn. "Top [astrology] earners tend to be baby boomers, people who have been around for a long time, so they have a client base – but they’re the same ones who are set in every other field too." She also points out that astrology isn't necessarily a secure vocation: "These jobs [often] don’t offer healthcare or benefits. If you’re dealing with illness or chronic pain, it can be difficult. The pay structure is not very defined, and it can be difficult to advocate for higher pay. I just feel like people don’t understand the value of what we do."
Comstock-Gay makes a similar point: "Changes to working conditions for freelancers would also benefit working astrologers," she says. "It's very easy to forget astrologers need health insurance and rent money like anyone else."
While there are organisations which provide training, such as the International Society for Astrological Research and the London School of Astrology, there aren’t many organisations which actively organise for better working conditions for astrologers, or which address issues around diversity, something that has long been a problem within mainstream astrology. Tabourn says this is something she’s been working on, too. "Maybe we need a union for astrologers," she adds.
Astrology often gets written off – or put on a pedestal – as just something mystical and mysterious, a kind of knowledge that only some have access to. The reality is that working in astrology can be just like any other job – sometimes incredibly exciting, and other times very mundane and tiring.
"People should know you can write spiritual content and still be a person, a messy personality with a distractible brain," says Lanyadoo. "But I have my dream job, and I wouldn’t change anything about it."