As a lapsed Roman Catholic who occasionally visits churches on her lunch break “just for the atmosphere”, I am more than familiar with using spirituality as a comfort blanket while not buying what it’s selling. To me, finding the notion of something comforting is not totally incompatible with failing to rationally convince myself of its existence.
My first horoscope experience was as a girl, flicking to the back pages of Mizz magazine, curious to know how a stranger thought my life was going to pan out when I had no idea. My mum was always cynical (despite being religious), and like many beliefs held by one’s parents I was happy to agree with her, not least when I noticed that what the universe had in store for me as a Cancer, was not dissimilar from what I’d read for Pisces, Gemini, or Sagittarius the week before.
As I grew up, despite my continued scepticism of what horoscopes had to offer, I found myself drawn to clicking on astrology articles online; Googling my then boyfriend’s star sign and fretting at our incompatibility; feeling renewed faith when my new partner’s birth chart was more promising; seeing Mystic Meg as a pillar of British media culture; and deploying the phrase “Mercury is in retrograde” as I threw my coffee across my keyboard for the third time. Each time reverting to it as a familiar and constant reassurance, a crutch when the world didn't make sense.
On 14 July, reports suggested that Nasa scientists had revealed a 13th Zodiac for anyone born between 29 November and 17 December – Ophiuchus, the snake bearer. Not only is a python king not very festive, but this disruption supposedly meant millions of others would see their sign shift with the calendar, myself included. Supposedly, I was no longer a Cancer, but a Gemini. Although this has now been debunked, and horoscope-stans reassured once more, the idea that my Cancer status could be taken away from me, left me feeling uneasy.
Horoscopes have undergone somewhat of a millennial renaissance; although the practice has been around in various forms for thousands of years, in the last two decades it has moved firmly into the mainstream, morphing into a popular-culture-compatible astrology. Studies suggest anywhere between 58 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds, and a more restrained, 20 per cent of 18 to 34-year-olds, believe in it. Even if we take the lower estimate, the psychic services industry grew 2 per cent between 2011 and 2016, and IBIS World says it is worth $2 (£1.5) billion every year.
Capitalism has undoubtedly helped it along: ASOS has a whole astrology-themed bikini line and every park in London has 10 women in Carrie-Bradshaw-esque star sign gold chains; member’s club Soho House hosts “Astrology for self-care nights”; popular horoscope meme Instagram accounts rack up thousands of followers (@notallgeminis has 584,000 followers) and Twitter imploded over a reported case of a homeowner turning down a Capricorn roommate.
Being a Cancer is part of how I see myself, that roots me to my past, present and future self...
This soft-core version of the New Age movement, one less synonymous with witchcraft and more with Urban Outfitters constellation T-shirts, has not only been fuelled by the ability for big brands to make money off of it, but also, some argue, with the decline of more traditional forms of organised religion.
I would not say horoscopes are a replacement for my lost faith, by any stretch, but being a June-Cancer baby is definitely part of my self identity. In the same way as being an Irish-descended Brit, a child of the 1990’s or a woman from Essex, being a Cancer is part of how I see myself, that I don’t think about day to day but roots me to my past, present and future self. To change it feels not only wrong but deeply uncomfortable.
Like many of my generation, in the face of increasing precariousness in the world; the 2008 financial crash, followed by a decade of austerity, difficulty finding employment, political turmoil, endless elections, Brexit, coronavirus and now teetering on the edge of another economic slump, it’s nice to have some shred of comfort and consistency. To know who you are in a longer-term sense rather than in the face of one crisis or the next.
I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t relate to the (supposed) characteristics of a Cancer: loyal, protective, caring, overly sensitive, intuitive, and yes, even moody and vindictive (I didn’t say it was all good). The rational part of my brain knows that these are not the sum total of my personality, nor exclusive to anyone with a different birthday month, but despite this scepticism it still feeds into my overall perception of self – one part of the tapestry that makes up how I picture me moving through the world.
Whether you believe in horoscopes or not, everyone knows what Zodiac sign they are (yes, you too). For me, to have to become a Gemini (unreliable and impulsive, no thanks) would just be the most 2020 thing about this year so far. Not content with taking away our loved ones and our freedom to leave our houses, the new decade needs to chip away at our sense of self too. So regardless of what the scientists say, I’ll be holding on to my Cancer badge.