I've always been heavily into astrology, but it was during a break-up a few years back that I fully leaned into it. Will I ever find love again? I'd think to myself, while cross-referencing various Comic Sans horoscopes from astrologers with names like “Cal” and “June”, who told me that Pluto was hurtling towards me. How depressed will I be this week in comparison to last week? I'd wonder cheerily, while typing “planets retrograde right now” into Google for the third time that week.
I'm not the only person who has turned to astrology during times of uncertainty or turmoil. Some even argue that the reason pop astrology experienced such a boom in the mid to late 2010s was because millennials were experiencing more uncertainty and turmoil than ever. Data shows that we're 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. And when many of us aren't religious, it came as no surprise that we looked to the skies for a different kind of answer.
But recently, I've noticed a subtle and gradual change. New astrology meme accounts aren’t popping up every week on Instagram (think about it: when's the last time you followed a new account?). I'm no longer continuously getting messages asking if I'm on Co-Star or The Pattern or any number of astrology apps. My Twitter feed is no longer constantly crammed with jokes about Libras, Scorpio moons and double Leos. Anecdotally, friends aren't asking so much about the signs of potential dates. Trends come and go, for sure. But something else has happened: a deadly, life-altering pandemic. It can make it hard to focus on anything else, even the things we used to enjoy.
I have this theory that coronavirus is to blame for my friends’ dwindling interest in astrology. It makes sense to turn to the stars after a break-up or career change. But a pandemic? That's a mammoth, on-the-ground crisis. A virus can only be eradicated with something solid and “hold it in your hands” tangible, like a vaccine or cure, regardless of planetary alignments. As much as I will always love astrology, it sometimes feels pointless reading my horoscope at a time when nobody has any idea what disasters could potentially be lurking around the corner.
From speaking to others in the UK, I'm not the only one who shares this theory right now. Alice, 25, says she stopped paying attention to what was happening with the planets around March, when everyone went into lockdown. “It wasn't a conscious decision, but if I was going to be online, I'd be much more likely to be obsessively scrolling through news headlines than horoscopes,” she explains. “I guess it kind of took a backseat because there were bigger, more important things to focus on, which needed real-life energy and community action. Astrology is more like a quiet, introspective thing. It felt a bit like, 'now's not the time.'”
Ari, 27, has a similar perspective. “I wouldn't say I've stopped caring about astrology altogether. I still check my sign most weeks. I also love to know other people's. But I've definitely stopped thinking about it as much as I used to,” she tells me. “It just got to a point where I was like, 'Why am I checking if this is going to be a good or a bad week? We know it's a bad week!' I remember one horoscope a few weeks ago saying that it was a good time to meet someone and I was like, 'No it's not. I haven't left the house.' Do you know what I mean?”
For many I speak to, it's not that they've left astrology behind forever, but that other things have taken precedence. Gemma, 24, tells me that she currently lives with her sister who is immunocompromised, with her grandparents just around the corner. “I love astrology, I love reading my tarot and that's never going to change,” she says. “But my main focus has been on making sure these people in my life are safe and cared for. I haven't done my tarot in ages and I can't remember the last time I actively checked Co-Star. My mind has been completely distracted while everything has felt so chaotic.”
Shea dds: “I feel anxious a lot of the time and astrology used to help with that, but not right now.”
Astrologers I speak to aren't worried. Claire Comstock-Gay, who goes by the name “Madame Clairevoyant” and writes horoscopes for The Cut, says that the popularity of astrology has always waxed and waned. She also hasn't noticed the pandemic affecting astrology's popularity in any major way: “I've seen a lot of astrology skeptics predicting that astrology's popularity will crash because astrology failed to predict the pandemic, but that's just not supported by the reality that most serious astrologers actually have been making very accurate predictions about 2020 for many years now,” she says.
Comstock-Gay’s got a point. Astrology isn’t exactly going to disappear – the ancient practice has been around since at least the 2nd millennium BCE, so why would 2020 be the year people stop thinking about the stars? But that doesn’t mean that, for now at least, the recent astrology boom might be quieting down while people attempt to make sense of the chaos in more down-on-the-ground ways.
“Even if this current boom, in its current form – with all the astrology apps and huge meme accounts and so on – doesn't last, astrology itself is endlessly rich and complex and resilient,” adds Comstock-Gay. “People will continue to find ways to interpret astrology, to make it their own, to use it to interpret their lives and the world. I don't think astrology is going anywhere!”