“What’s your sign?” It’s not only a tried-and-true pick-up line — it’s a question that intrigues millions of people. According to the American Federation of Astrologers, 70 million Americans read their horoscopes every day, and a 2017 Pew Research Center poll determined that almost thirty percent of Americans believe in astrology.
Astrology is generally defined as the belief that astronomical phenomena — the movements and positions of celestial objects, like stars and planets — have the power to influence the daily events in our lives or provide us with specific personality traits. This should not be confused with astronomy, which is the scientific study of celestial bodies, space, and the physics of the universe. Astrology is pseudoscience, mystical and expressive; astronomy is a natural science, made up of cold, hard facts.
What’s the scientific evidence that astrology is real?
Is there any scientific basis for the belief that stars and planets impact our personalities and life paths? Nope! But given how many mysteries and phenomena science can’t explain (for example, why people yawn), it’s not illogical to assume that natural elements affect us more than we realize. Consider the fact that higher temperatures increase incidences of violent crime, or the fact that an estimated 10 million Americans suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.), a type of seasonal depression linked to changes in things like temperature and sunlight.
While astrology cannot precisely predict your future or determine your true compatibility with others — and you should be careful putting too much stock in it — it’s a fun and engaging way to pass the time.
What is astrology vs. the zodiac vs. horoscopes?
“Astrology” is the blanket term for all of this stuff — the study of planetary positions and the alignment of celestial bodies having an influence over your behavior. The commonly-referenced “zodiac” is a form of western astrology, and your zodiac “sign” is determined by where the sun was in the sky at the time of your birth. (When people ask “what’s your sign?,” they are referring to the western zodiac sun sign — although you have signs in other planets, too. We’ll get into that more later.)
The Zodiac: This element of astrology defines the sun’s movement at the time of a person’s birth, and it’s believed to correspond to certain aspects of a person’s character.
Sun Signs: In western astrology, the zodiac is divided into twelve “sun signs” (sometimes called “star signs”), each roughly corresponding to the star constellations: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces. (In eastern astrology, the Chinese zodiac is used instead; this zodiac corresponds to years, not months, and assigns an animal to each year in a repeating twelve-year cycle. The animals come with various reputed traits, just like zodiac signs do.)
Horoscopes: While astrology is an ancient system of understanding the natural world that was actually practiced in early Mesopotamia, China, Egypt, and Greece, horoscopes are a modern invention. Magazine and newspaper horoscopes have not always been written by astrologers, but rather by staff writers with vivid imaginations and a vague notion of the stars. (“A relationship will turn rocky as Saturn aligns with Jupiter this week. Keep your eyes peeled for a potential new love interest, because someone is admiring you from afar.”)
Horoscopes claim to provide information about a person’s day-to-day life or even predict future events to come — and much like talking to a psychic, the advice they purport is very unlikely to be accurate. No one and nothing can predict the future. However, reading these daily affirmations can encourage self-reflection and a little meditation on what it all means. Plus, what’s wrong with providing people with a bit of comfort in dark times?
How do you figure out your sign(s)?
The sun sign is your north star — pun intended — when assessing your astrological chart. It’s the most popular sign referenced in western astrology. To find your sun sign, you just need your date of birth. For example, if you were born on September 9 (the most common birthday in the US), you are a Virgo, because the designation of a Virgo is a birth date between August 23 and September 22.
When astrologers talk about your compatibility with another person — romantic compatibility, usually — they are mostly referring to the co-mingling of your two respective sun signs. But there are other signs in your birth chart, too. Moon and rising signs are gaining popularity, and when people refer to the astrological “big three” they mean sun, moon, and rising. To quote the aptly-named astrologer Lisa Stardust, “the sun sign represents our ego and motivations; the moon governs our emotional nature; and the ascendant or rising sign speaks to the energy that we put into the world.” To put it another way, the sun sign represents your core identity, the moon sign represents your innate processing of emotions, and the rising sign represents your external self, or the face you show the world.
You can calculate your big three and map your entire birth chart if you know your exact birth time (many people’s parents remember it, or you can sometimes find it written on your birth certificate). The moon sign is calculated by determining where the moon was positioned during your date, place, and time of birth; your rising sign (also known as “ascendant”) relates to the zodiac sign that was “rising” on the Eastern horizon when you were born.
To learn more, try downloading the Co-Star astrology app. It promises “algorithmically-generated insights personalized to a degree unattainable elsewhere,” and basically provides well-written and whimsical advice based on how the planets may impact you here on earth. You can enter your birth time and location to get a breakdown of your natal chart, and even add friends to view your determined compatibilities in categories like “Moods & Emotions” to “Senses of Responsibility.” I like the app’s existential certainty. For example, today it warned me that “Someone is actively trying to get closer to you. A chance to connect honestly with them requires lowering your guard just a little.” Even if the stars did not actually forebode this, it’s probably true in some way or other. And I think I will lower my guard a little.