“Pisces, you are reserved and somewhat quiet… [you] rule non-verbal communication, [which is] the reason why so many Pisces work happily as artists, musicians, dancers, sculptors,” writes American astrologer Susan Miller on her astrology site, Astrologyzone.com, which draws over 309 million page views per year with over 11 million unique readers.
However, those around me will agree that I am neither reserved nor “somewhat quiet”, I have two left feet, and I am not known for my artistic skills. Yet, while I’m not exactly aligned with my zodiac sign as a Pisces, I do find myself eagerly devouring monthly Western astrological predictions that forecast what’s in store for me.
And I’m not alone – over one in four Americans believe in astrology, according to a Yougov poll in 2022. British astrologer Dr Nicholas Campion, who is also the associate professor in cosmology and culture at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, conducted a survey in 2017 with his students aged 18 to 21, and found that 70 per cent read a horoscope column once a month, while 51 per cent valued its advice.
The power of the sign
Astrology itself dates back to the second millennium BC. The origins of astrology can be traced back to Mesopotamia, a historic region that was home to the ancient Sumerian, Babylonian and Assyrian civilisations in the Middle East, among others, says Noorashikin Zulkifli, senior curator (Islamic Art & Peranakan) at Singapore’s Asian Civilisations Museum.
“The idea that celestial bodies – the sun, moon, stars and planets – can influence earthly events, including shaping our personalities and the course of our lives, stems from Mesopotamian divination,” she explains.
This belief in the close link between humanity and the stars eventually spread far and wide through texts – albeit in different forms and translations – to areas including Egypt, Greece, India, and China. Different cultures abide by their own versions of astrology. “For example, the Indian form of astrology took on the complex Greek mythology, but incorporated the caste system to make it relevant for their society,” says Noorashikin.
Meanwhile, Western astrology as we know it today stems from the Greek system, which combined the Mesopotamian beliefs of celestial omens with their own interpretation of the positions and movements of stars and planets.
“[They placed emphasis] on how the celestial bodies shaped a person’s character. They divided the sun’s orbital path (as they understood it) into twelve parts, resulting in the zodiac signs with corresponding constellations in the sky that drew on their mythology. This involved complex mathematical calculations based on actual observations of celestial bodies,” she says.
Most of us will be familiar with Western astrology. We would have grown up reading our horoscopes in the newspapers, or bought women’s magazines to see our horoscope predictions for the month. The widespread proliferation of Western astrology has caused its methodical roots to be diluted as it has evolved to cater to the masses.
This has also led modern astrology to often be considered superficial, says May Sim, a local astrologer with over 17 years of experience who also runs Selfstrology, a Singapore-based personal development consultancy.
An ancient practice in the internet age
Web searches for “birth chart” and “astrology” both hit five-year peaks in 2020, according to Google Trends. Recent years have also seen an explosion of astrology apps.
Co-Star, an American app that is often credited with driving the current astrological fascination, has received US$21 million ($28 million) in funding so far.
The app, which was founded in 2017, currently has more than 5.3 million active users, 80 per cent of which are female, while the average user age is 24. The Pattern, another app on the market tied to birth charts and astrology, reported that it had 15 million profiles in 2021, with a 150 per cent increase in downloads in 2020.
“Astrology has gotten more mainstream visibility and engagement via mobile apps and social media channels like Instagram and Tiktok,” says Selfstrology’s May.
Astrology has gotten more mainstream visibility and engagement via mobile apps and social media channels like Instagram and Tiktok.May Sim
It’s not just social media – horoscopes have invaded dating platforms as well. Bumble, a popular dating app, introduced a feature in 2019 that allows its users to list their sun signs on their profile and filter potential matches by star sign.
“Astrology is having a global moment right now, driven by renewed interest from millennials and Gen Z,” says Lucille McCart, APAC communications director at Bumble.
In Singapore, over 80 per cent of Bumble users have added their star sign to their profiles. “As of September 2022, people in Singapore who add the zodiac badge to their Bumble profile experienced 118 per cent more matches in a month on average, compared to users who didn’t use the badge,” Lucille reveals.
Eugenia Quek, a 27-year-old marketing executive who lists her horoscope sign on her dating profile, says: “I would say that I use astrology as an indicator for compatibility. If I come across a [dating] profile that has my compatible signs listed, the person will automatically get bonus points.”
Why do people believe in astrology?
A 2022 study published in the International Journal of Social Psychiatry found that “interest in astrology surged possibly due to the uncertain conditions in the world, such as the Covid-19 pandemic”.
As humans, we tend to dislike and avoid uncertainty. In some ways, astrology offers comfort as it seemingly charts our future for us. “Astrology seeks to order and provide explanations for why things happen in our lives. This perceived certainty can help us feel more secure in our understanding and acceptance of the reality of our lives,” explains Dr Annabelle Chow, a clinical psychologist who operates her eponymous practice in Singapore.
Interestingly, she notes that astrological predictions could be more appealing to those with narcissistic traits. Citing a recent Lund University study that showed small positive correlations between narcissism and belief in astrology, she explains that “those who are more narcissistic may see the stars and planets as revolving around them, while those with higher intelligence are cognisant of the reverse. People with a greater sense of pride in their own abilities might seek to explain limitations in their abilities by seeking out external interpretations from astrology.”
For example, this means that someone (me) can credit being a Pisces as the reason why they tend to daydream, and perhaps find it easier to escape rather than address the issues they see in their personal lives.
Others might find comfort in looking to the stars for an explanation behind the events in their lives. “This group of individuals may find astrology appealing because they can feel as if they are part of a grander design in the universe. This sense of belonging to something larger than life also offers a certain comfort,” says Dr Chow.
Astrology seeks to order and provide explanations for why things happen in our lives.Dr Annabelle Chow
This sense of community could also be a reason as to why astrology is appealing especially to those who are seen as more vulnerable, says Dr Veronica L Gregorio, a sociologist and teaching assistant at the National University of Singapore.
“With secularisation (the disassociation from religious or spiritual concerns), more people are finding ways to explain certain happenings – for women, [these could be] the marginalisation, violence, as well as biases that remain [to this day] – and astrology is one way to help them cope with such situations,” she explains. “Such communities of practitioners and believers function as a safe space for women to share their experience without judgement.”
Another reason why some might be so invested in astrology is the comfort they find in astrological predictions that tend to affirm and reinforce the model of themselves, says Dr Chow. This is also known as the Barnum effect, which suggests that people tend to accept vague and overgeneralised statements as accurate for their own lives.
“This means that many of us seek out information about ourselves from sources like astrology because we perceive it as being highly relevant and personalised to us as unique individuals – even when it isn’t necessarily so,” she explains.
She points out an example with an astrological prediction for her birth year: “2023 is a mixed year of wins and losses. Think twice before you ditch your present job for another. Financially, stay within your budget and avoid overspending.”
While it might seem personal, such overgeneralised statements in fact apply to a wide variety of circumstances. “Astrological predictions are written in a way to make people comfortable in affirming and reinforcing their beliefs because they can be seen as applying to their own lives without being too prescriptive,” says Dr Chow.
Personally, I believe that I am drawn to astrology because I find comfort in the abstractness of the monthly predictions; it allows me to imagine and apply these ideas into my reality, on my terms (very Pisces of me, as I’m told by astrology enthusiast friends).
To me, astrology is a fun exercise in self-introspection, and an interesting talking point when I’m out with friends. At times, as Dr Chow has pointed out, astrology also serves as a way to explain events in my life. If I’m having a bad day, for example, it’s all too easy to blame it on Mercury being in retrograde.
But whether you believe that celestial events intersperse with our lives, or think that it’s all frivolous, there’s no denying one truth: Astrology is big business and it’s here to stay.