How Astrology Evolved, From Mesopotamia to Instagram
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The Backstory | The Backstory | Episode 22
How Astrology Evolved, From Mesopotamia to Instagram
Millennials who see no contradiction between using astrology and believing in science are fuelling a resurgence of the practice through social media and apps like Co-Star.
Read the story.
Released on 10/21/2019
[upbeat music]
Why do people gravitate towards astrology?
It's highly individualized.
It has a technical system.
It has a dimension of poetic storytelling.
And it promises to tell you things
that you don't already know.
When you think about the origins of astrology
you have to think about what life was like
before electric light, right?
I mean, not only could all of the stars be seen,
but the planets could be seen too.
And people started to notice,
pretty early on, that they moved.
And they started to assign meanings
to what those movements might be.
And so astrology is thousands,
and thousands, and thousands of years old.
It starts in ancient Mesopotamia.
It travels through Egypt.
It travels through the Roman Empire.
This is just western astrology.
There's other lineages of Vedic and Indian astrology.
[calm music]
Carl Jung, of course, like the famous psychoanalyst,
used astrology in his practice.
That connection both legitimated astrology
in a certain way, especially in the 1970s
when people were rediscovering Jung.
They were also rediscovering astrology.
But it also informed how astrology was practiced.
And led to something called psychological astrology.
Where astrology was much more about
self-actualization, what is my life's purpose,
what are the blockages I need to work through?
And that had a big vogue in the 1970s and 80s.
And so what we see today with people
using astrology as a kind of self-help tool,
that comes really out of psychological astrology.
Social media has done to astrology
what it's done to a lot of industries.
It's leveled things, so there's a lower barrier to entry.
You can reach mass audience more easily
without going through the gate keeping channels.
The apps, they make it fun to talk about
and share with your friends.
The biggest apps are Co-Star, Sanctuary,
I think The Pattern is a big one.
And they're pretty different.
Like Co-Star has almost like
an aggressive tone to their app.
The CEO of Co-Star wants it to be, she said,
like taking a cold shower.
She doesn't want it to be like journaling.
I think that the reason people wanna share
astrology content has to do with
this power of astrology to make a person feel seen.
You can go to an astrologer to talk about anything.
Some of them are kind of like life coaches.
Some of them are more like therapists.
Some of them are more like spiritual gurus.
One of the interesting things about astrology to me
is that it's both a very descriptive system
and a very interpretive system.
So it's descriptive in so far as
when you see an astrologer and have a birth chart reading.
The astrologer tells you who you are, right.
I mean, even if you're the one doing a lot of talking,
the astrologer is giving you data.
And they're saying, this is what you're like,
this is how other people perceive you,
this is how you communicate,
this is what's important to you.
Your love life's not very satisfactory, is it?
That way it's very different from therapy.
Because, you know, therapy is this sort of
open-ended investigative process.
And then the thing about it being interpretive
is that everybody is looking at the same data, right.
So once you're in astrology world, I mean,
anyone you go to is gonna be able
to generate the same chart.
You could generate it yourself, for free, online.
So whatever power happens in that encounter
has so much to do with the way the story is told,
the style, and the interpretive flair
of that particular astrologer.
Astrologers were really eager to talk about what they do.
One of the interesting things was how many of them
read my birth chart, and what a strange moment that was,
always in the reporting.
You know, at the end of an interview
an astrologer would say, oh let me just look at your chart.
And they would pull out their phone
and ask for my birth information.
And I would give it.
And then they would say, oh,
and start asking really personal questions.
And it was such an interesting reversal
of the usual sort of, it's supposed to be my job
to ask them questions and make them uncomfortable.
But instead I would be put on the spot.
One of the challenges of the piece was that
astrology is a huge topic, right.
It's like, it's a profession, it's a theory of life,
it's, you know, a branding opportunity.
I think of astrology as being like psychoanalysis.
And the pleasure it provides is
out of mastering a system of interpretation.
So yeah, it relies on this empirical data.
Asking it to be proven up to scientific standards,
I think, is just kind of missing the point.
And most astrologers that I talked to
were totally uninterested in defending astrology
on the grounds of science or empiricism.
But most of the criticism seems to roll off
astrologers themselves, who don't seem
to agree with the grounds of the criticism.
Many of them will say, like yeah,
we didn't say it was a science.
You know, a planet can mean many things
depending on where it is, what other planets are in the mix,
what's happening in your life.
And so, it's not just about memorizing
a set of definitions and then you're done with astrology.
It's about people who are really good at it,
or who are professionals at it, who know how to read
the planets in this really interesting way.
And so, for me, what the reporting,
and the reading, and the research really solidified
was my sense that astrology is really like a literary act.
And it's about storytelling.
And so, I think that the ultimate pleasure of astrology
is this pleasure of interpretation.
[calm music]
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