Astrology Columnists Share How They Do It — & The Best And Worst Signs

Horoscopes can attract their fair share of side-eye from non-believers. Dad thinks they’re psuedoscience hooey. Your friend says she doesn’t relate at all to being a Scorpio. That rude ex-boyfriend thinks you’re so smart usually, why do you believe this crap again?

And it’s not just random skeptics who look down on horoscopes — even career astrologists can be dismissive of them. Since most horoscopes are based solely on your sun sign, they focus exclusively on the position of the sun at the time of your birth, while a full birth chart reading examines the positioning of the sun, moon, houses, planets, and more. That sort of analysis is way more specific, and can’t be communicated in a paragraph. According to astrologer Barry Perlman, “Many astrologers don't even consider horoscope columns to be 'real' astrology and can be downright hostile. They see our columns as a bastardization of the craft and contributing to the uncredible reputation astrology has in the mainstream.”

The naysayers may be missing the point, though. Many horoscopes are written by seasoned astrologists, who are more than comfortable analyzing a birth chart — Susan Miller, Chani Nicholas, Refinery29’s own AstroTwins. Why bother with generalities, then? Because horoscopes are fun, accessible, and most important, popular. About a third of Americans consider astrology to be "sort of" scientific (and 10% call it "very scientific"), according to a 2014 study by the National Science Foundation, with the largest portion of true believers between the ages of 18-24.

The appeal isn’t limited to that demographic: For me, a 29-year-old “medium believer,” reading my horoscope is less about the alignment of stars and more of a reminder to slow down, and consider what’s happening around me. People use horoscopes for self-examination, or for contextualizing the real world. In my eyes, the ambiguity of horoscopes — often cited as a reason to not take them seriously — is the very thing that makes them appealing. I’ve never read a super specific horoscope and felt compelled to restructure my life, but give me some vague-ish platitudes to ruminate on, and I’m solid.

The recent boom of emotionally-oriented, literary horoscopes suggests I’m not alone in this. The trend started in 2012 with The Rumblr’s Madame Clairevoyant column (which now appears on The Toast), gained traction with KOOL A.D.’s horoscopes for Paper Mag, continues with Lena Dunham’s Lenny newsletter, and even shows up on cannabis lifestyle site The Kind. These columns come with no disclaimer, but one gets the sense they have little to do with your sun sign, if at all. And yet, the new wave of astrologers are insightful, often hilarious, and frequently life-affirming. Madame Clairevoyant's readings are quiet but empowering, while KOOL A.D.’s are surreal, often involving chants and the CAPS LOCK button. Lenny’s horoscopes are blunt and deeply funny, while The Kind’s read like you’re talking to a friend, who is actually listening. The liberties taken by these columnists don’t diminish astrology, they expand it. Even a non-believer can take away something of value, if only a laugh.

I asked Claire Comstock-Gay, the fiction writer behind Madame Clairevoyant, and arguably the first internet writer to popularize horoscopes sans woo, how she feels about the rise in literary horoscopes. “I always get a little jealous when I see other writers doing horoscopes in such different and interesting and beautiful ways,” she says. “There’s so much room in astrology and so much that it can hold, from the silly to the serious and the fake to the real.”

The room for experimentation has attracted writers who clearly spend more time on their prose than poring over star charts. As a reader, I love this spin on signs. As a Virgo, though, I wanted to know what goes into creating these columns. Are they meant to be supplemental to traditional astrology, or should I finally give up my first of the month (and second of the month, and third of the month) ritual of refreshing astrologyzone.com? Here’s what the writers had to say:
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Aubrey Bellamy (for The Kind)

What was your first encounter with astrology?
Probably YM or Seventeen. The only thing I knew about my sign was its name, Scorpio, and based on the name alone, it sounded about right.

Do you research your horoscopes at all? Or are they more of a literary pursuit?
Definitely more literary. I used to read my horoscope every month/week/day, so I know the basic formula — the language. I did some initial research (Google: "Virgo attributes"), but it immediately felt disingenuous, a little sour. Something I don't like about some horoscopes is when they tell the reader she is a "classic", whatever her sign is. My intention was always to write something that felt personal, but not indicting.

How do you get into the horoscope headspace when you're about to write?
The headspace is definitely different. My writing is usually a little jokey and very personal, and that doesn't feel right here. I like to think about conversations I've had throughout the month, and the general themes I feel like have been plaguing the people, or the whole rest of the world. Kind of like a feelings zeitgeist? Then I distill it! Or, try to.

Finally, the question we’re all here for. What's the best sign?
Diplomatic answer is "every sign is good and fine and beautiful," selfish answer is "Scorpio, of course!," and the answer that will cost me the presidency is "Gemini."
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Melissa Broder (for Lenny)

First, some background. What was your first encounter with astrology?
I got deep in the astrology game during a dark time, age 20, post-breakup from a psychedelic love relationship, smoking weed all day and night in pajamas, binge-eating fake cheese product and gummy candy, and hot glue gunning beads onto everything as a crafting project. I thought that if I could better know the underlying science behind the mysteries of the world and people, then I could better control love.

Do you research your horoscopes at all? Or are they more of a literary pursuit?
I've long tried to forget astrology, since it can be a reductive way to view humanity; but like a person who flees the organized religion in which they were raised, there are elements that I cannot detach from my perception of people. One of those is the personology of the signs. So I approach life, and my horoscopes, with the signs as a base, and then expand, intuitively, from there.

If you do research, do you have any trusted sources you like to use?
Meditation, intuition, Nicorette gum.

How do you get into the horoscope headspace when you're about to write?
I like to write while I'm moving. So often I dictate the horoscopes via Siri while walking, running, or driving.

Finally, the question we’re all here for. What's the best sign?
Everyone is beautiful and horrific.
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KOOL A.D. (for Paper Mag)

What was your first encounter with astrology?
Astrology encountered us all before we were in the physical realm. There is no first encounter and no last encounter, it's all one continuous encounter.

Do you research your horoscopes at all? Or are they more of a literary pursuit?

I do some research, but I usually just go off hunches. I try to consider the people in my life and what signs they are, and write to them a bit.

If you do research, do you have any trusted sources you like to use?
Just generally Wikipedia and Google. Susan Miller is a go-to also. I try to keep African, Chinese, and other non-western astrologies in mind, too.

How do you get into the horoscope headspace when you're about to write?
I just go in.

Finally, the question we’re all here for. What's the best sign?
Scorpio.
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Claire Comstock Gay (Madame Clairevoyant)

What was your first encounter with astrology?
My earliest memories of astrology involve being told that I, a Sagittarius, was supposed to be outgoing and athletic, and deciding that I had no time for something that was so clearly untrue. I have a lot of memories of being a young teen and thinking that astrology was some embarrassing hippie kind of thing.

Do you research your horoscopes at all? Or are they more of a literary pursuit?
I’m always a little bit embarrassed to admit how little research I do, which is none at all. They’re totally a literary pursuit. Every once in a while I come across some stranger on the internet ranting about what a phony I am, and it’s hard to argue with that. I try to write things that feel in some way real and true, and I do feel like there’s some kind of weird magic involved in what I do, but it definitely has nothing to do with real astrology.

How do you get into the horoscope headspace when you're about to write? Are there any extra steps in your process? Or is it like writing anything else?
Writing horoscopes requires me to get outside of my own head and my own feelings. This is a good thing, I think. I think about people I care about, typically friends, but increasingly, lately, the young people I work with during the day. I take lots of walks.

Finally, the question we’re all here for. What's the best sign?
For a while I was obsessed with Taurus — I kept meeting people who I didn’t like so much at first, then grew to really admire and respect, and almost every single one of them turned out to be a Taurus. Then Capricorn — all these Capricorns I knew had these weird things in common that were totally not in line with the way that Capricorns are supposed to be. Right now, my own sign, Sagittarius. I’m coming to terms with how much I actually do match the profile.
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