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: