WRIT­TEN IN THE STARS

There’s a new con­stel­la­tion of astrol­ogy gu­rus in the as­cen­dancy. Richard charts their in­flu­ence.

VOGUE Australia - - News - God­win

There’s a new con­stel­la­tion of astrol­ogy gu­rus in the as­cen­dancy.

You have to be care­ful about drop­ping the A-bomb into con­ver­sa­tion. Ca­su­ally in­quire after some­one’s star sign at a party, or blame a missed email on Mer­cury in ret­ro­grade and you make a dan­ger­ous gam­ble. For some, it will be a bit like an­nounc­ing you own ev­ery­thing Justin Bieber has ever recorded, or declar­ing that the earth is flat. The evan­gel­i­cal athe­ist Richard Dawkins reck­ons as­trologers should be pros­e­cuted. But he would. He’s an Aries.

Few would say they be­lieve in astrol­ogy, ex­actly … it’s more like a guilty plea­sure, an ir­ra­tional­ity of choice. Clearly it’s ridicu­lous to con­tend that an an­cient Baby­lo­nian in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the move­ment of the heav­ens, fil­tered through a bit of new age pop psy­chol­ogy, might gov­ern our in­ner­most de­sires.

Sci­en­tists don’t take horo­scopes in the least bit se­ri­ously. But lost souls do, more and more. Astrol­ogy is as­cen­dant in a way that may seem sur­pris­ing in our bi­nary, util­i­tar­ian age. Celebri­ties are ex­tolling the virtues of the stars with in­creas­ing aban­don. Lena Dun­ham re­cently an­nounced: “Yes, you can be a very se­ri­ous and sub­stan­tial woman and also al­low the plan­ets to rule your soul!” Cara Delev­ingne (Leo) has a tat­too of a lion on her hand; Rita Ora (Sagittarius) has a bow and arrow be­hind her ear; Ri­hanna (Pisces) has two fish on her neck. Yet per­haps this makes sense: fa­mous peo­ple of­ten feel at the mercy of forces they can’t con­trol. Mean­while, a new gen­er­a­tion is us­ing the stars to chart their course through an in­creas­ingly un­cer­tain world. “It’s not a niche mar­ket but a cul­tural move­ment,” ac­cord­ing to Aliza Faragher, co-founder of the Los Angeles-based dat­ing app Align, which makes matches ac­cord­ing to astrological com­pat­i­bil­ity. In­deed, from stargaz­ing re­treats in Tu­lum to Gemini hate-memes on Tum­blr (many stem­ming from the fact that Don­ald Trump is a Gemini) and the grow­ing trend for bio­dy­namic food “grown and har­vested ac­cord­ing to the phases of the moon,” all things cos­mic are be­ing re­de­fined. How else to ex­plain the six mil­lion vis­i­tors to Astrol­o­gy­zone.com each month, the web­site of Amer­ica’s most pop­u­lar astrologer, Su­san Miller?

“Astrol­ogy is wildly pop­u­lar with mil­len­ni­als,” Ruby Warrington, Bri­tish jour­nal­ist and founder of the web­site The Nu­mi­nous, tells me on the phone from New York, where she’s now based. The site spe­cialises in “mod­ern cos­mic think­ing”. “As our lives be­come more en­twined with tech­nol­ogy and we out­source the job of know­ing our­selves to our apps, de­vices and machines, a space is be­ing cre­ated for a deeper in­ves­ti­ga­tion about what it re­ally means to be hu­man,” she says. The Nu­mi­nous of­fers advice on how to cope with the Mer­cury ret­ro­grade (the thrice-yearly phe­nom­e­non where the tran­sit of the mes­sen­ger planet spells earth­bound calamity) along­side ar­ti­cles on jewellery

de­sign­ers and or­gas­mic med­i­ta­tion work­shops. “I see all things nu­mi­nous as the miss­ing pieces to the well­ness craze that’s sweep­ing the world,” she says. “You can drink green juice and do all the yoga you want, but if you’re not ad­dress­ing your emo­tional and spir­i­tual well­be­ing, too, it will have very lit­tle last­ing im­pact.”

The Nu­mi­nous marks a shift away from astrol­ogy’s more naff as­so­ci­a­tions. Now, it speaks to med­i­ta­tion, mind­ful­ness, and a wider “con­scious­ness” move­ment, used less to pre­dict the fu­ture and more as a means of un­der­stand­ing those end­less sub­jects of fas­ci­na­tion: our­selves.

“Hav­ing a birth chart made is per­sonal to you,” says Carolyne Faulkner, astrologer for Soho Houses around the globe. “It maps the po­si­tions of the sun, moon, plan­ets and other ce­les­tial ob­jects when you were born. No-one in the world has the same one.”

Faulkner is the go-to woman for singers, ac­tors and cre­ative types who reg­u­larly fly her around the world to dis­pense one-toone cos­mic advice. And, as she ex­plains, there’s a lot more to it than with the news­pa­per horo­scopes – as with mol­e­cules (and also Scien­tol­ogy) it all be­comes more com­pli­cated the more you look. The lo­ca­tions of ob­jects in the cos­mos each in­flu­ence a dif­fer­ent as­pect of your char­ac­ter. Your sun sign gov­erns your iden­tity, your ris­ing sign is the face you present to the world (and your fash­ion sense), your moon sign rep­re­sents your more hid­den emo­tions, and so on. For some, see­ing a high- end astrologer like Faulkner at Soho House is slightly less bur­den­some than see­ing a shrink and of­ten as ben­e­fi­cial. The prac­tice is also gain­ing in­tel­lec­tual re­spectabil­ity, claim mar­ried as­trologers Quinn Cox and Stella Starsky. He is a puck­ish Li­bran, for­merly a jour­nal­ist; she is a sen­sual Capricorn, for­merly a buyer at Dries Van Noten. To­gether they now run a pri­vate cos­mic con­sul­tancy in Bos­ton for clients in­clud­ing Har­vard pro­fes­sors and Wall Street in­vestors. “They’re so­phis­ti­cated, they’re un­em­bar­rassed and they tend to be am­bi­tious,” says Cox. The pair don’t ap­prove of “play­ing God” and mak­ing pre­dic­tions for peo­ple’s fu­tures, which they see as ex­ploita­tive. “We pre­fer to use it as a tool for greater self­aware­ness, per­haps in ad­di­tion to cog­ni­tive ther­apy or med­i­ta­tion,” says Starsky. They de­vel­oped their “sexy-smart” style by mak­ing charts for friends after fash­ion shows, and went on to pub­lish the cult best­selling book Sex­trol­ogy (truly, an in­dis­pens­able guide to hu­man weird­ness). Their main in­no­va­tion is to di­vide the signs into male and fe­male, and in place of the vague lan­guage of news­pa­per horo­scopes, they are un­nerv­ingly spe­cific, right down to phys­i­cal de­tails and sex­ual pec­ca­dil­loes: Cancer males have wom­anly hips, Leo women like to go on top, Virgo men are highly con­trol­ling, and so on (it gets filth­ier). “We main­tain that our book can be read cover to cover as a story of hu­man na­ture,” says Starsky. “These are char­ac­ters in a myth­i­cal ar­che­typal story. I think younger gen­er­a­tions see that more read­ily than those into their granny’s astrol­ogy.” Sci­en­tists, of course, con­sider astrol­ogy a pseu­do­science, as it be­gins with a premise and then seeks ev­i­dence to back it up, mak­ing it sus­cep­ti­ble to con­fir­ma­tion bias. We see what we want to see in it. And as even Cox ad­mits: “After every ses­sion we look at each other as if to say: ‘I have no idea why this works.’ I just know that once you buy into the idea of this thing be­ing real, there are rules, ev­ery­thing is in­ter­re­lated, and it’s al­ways right.” But even with my con­fir­ma­tion-bias gog­gles on, I find it hard to get past the em­bar­rass­ingly ac­cu­rate de­scrip­tion of me in Sex­trol­ogy. (I’m Cancer male, Aries moon, Virgo ris­ing, since you ask.) My habit of flip­ping my feet when I wake up in the morn­ing, my lop­ing gait, my patho­log­i­cal need for fe­male ap­proval. “It’s you, it’s def­i­nitely you,” con­firms my Aquar­ian wife, who other­wise con­sid­ers astrol­ogy the pin­na­cle of nar­cis­sism. And when I sup­ply Starsky and Cox with my full birth chart for a Skype con­sul­ta­tion, I do be­gin to fear drown­ing in my own wa­tery re­flec­tion. They tell me all sorts of things about my­self: how the Mer­curySun con­junc­tion in my 10th house means writ­ing is the per­fect

ca­reer for me, but that a Saturn-Jupiter op­po­si­tion in my first house means I am al­ways torn be­tween con­form­ing to the rules and colour­ing out­side the lines. Am I too much or not enough? This is ap­par­ently a pow­er­ful dy­namic for me.

There are things about my mother, too, and teenage de­pres­sion, and then some­thing “leaps out” at them. “When you were about 19 there’s some­thing to­tally left of field that hap­pened that you’ve never been able to ex­plain …” says Cox. Erm, maybe the never-tobe-re­peated gay re­la­tion­ship I had when I was a stu­dent in France? “Okay! Well, yes!” I never tell any­one about this, I say, not be­cause I’m ashamed but be­cause it just seems like it hap­pened to a dif­fer­ent per­son. “You need to em­brace it as part of your heal­ing,” Starsky tells me. “It’s not about the thing it­self, sex or any­thing like that,” says Cox. “It’s about the part of you that was avail­able to that. It was the: ‘Who am I?’ in that sit­u­a­tion.”

They ad­vise me to read “Self-re­liance”, a 1841 es­say by Ralph Waldo Emer­son, and move to LA. I come away feel­ing dizzy, elated. Per­haps this is what comes with fi­nally be­ing un­der­stood! Per­haps I’m giv­ing my­self li­cence to ex­press this now as Starsky says I need to stop re­treat­ing into my cere­bral com­fort zone and start fol­low­ing my in­stincts! Later, I have a come­down. Doesn’t ev­ery­one un­dergo some sort of tran­si­tion at 19 or 20? Why did I con­fess that? But wasn’t their advice ac­tu­ally quite in­sight­ful? Wise even? I’m torn be­tween want­ing to con­fess more and more and feel­ing that this in­ward jour­ney is dan­ger­ous and solip­sis­tic. My Jupiter-Saturn play­ing up again.

But as a sys­tem of iden­tity, astrol­ogy chimes with many mod­ern modes of think­ing, by­pass­ing the pol­i­tics of eth­nic­ity, gen­der, so­cial class, re­li­gion and age. Astrol­ogy is also re­demp­tive and non­judge­men­tal, a way of le­git­imis­ing “you’re weird”. Mean­while, the fact that sci­ence-minded types find it so ap­palling makes it all feel quite sub­ver­sive, in the way of wear­ing a tutu to a foot­ball match.

One of my favourite as­trologers is Vic­tor Vazquez (aka rap­per-artist-nov­el­ist Kool A.D.), whose hip-hop horo­scopes for Pa­per mag­a­zine are mock­ing and deadly se­ri­ous at the same time. “I be­lieve in astrol­ogy, as much as, like, any­thing else,” he tells me. “I find its sort of out­sider sta­tus among aca­demics pretty at­trac­tive. Mys­ti­cism finds its way into ev­ery­body’s think­ing whether we’re con­scious of it or not.”

Astrol­ogy’s pop­u­lar­ity with a gen­er­a­tion that has grown up Googling ev­ery­thing makes hella sense, as Kool A.D. might say. All you need is some­one’s birth­day, and ide­ally their pre­cise time and place of birth, and you can log on to Alabe.com and call up a sort of Wikipedia page of their soul. “This rep­re­sents a hugely em­pow­er­ing shift away from the astrologer as a guru fig­ure, plac­ing the an­swers firmly in the hands of the in­di­vid­ual,” says Warrington. Our on­line in­ter­ac­tions are me­di­ated by the great gods of big data in any case, and archetypes aren’t so dif­fer­ent from al­go­rithms. (“If you liked this Taurus, you might also like these Capri­corns!”). They’re also a lot more, well, hu­man. Why is my boyfriend such a con­trol freak? He’s a Virgo. Why is the world so messed up at the mo­ment? Mer­cury is in ret­ro­grade.

And with­out dis­count­ing the in­flu­ence of ge­net­ics and cul­ture and ed­u­ca­tion and so on, is it re­ally so im­plau­si­ble that the time of year that you were born has some in­flu­ence on your char­ac­ter? The moon gov­erns the tides and cre­ates tiny sig­na­tures in the form of pearls – moon-like em­a­na­tions formed by the sea wash­ing over oys­ter beds. Pretty! Might it not have some tiny ef­fect on our moods, too? But then you reach the lim­its of the the­ory. The idea that Pluto, a mi­nus­cule rock 4.5 bil­lion miles away, has any ef­fect on our ac­tions is ab­surd. But, as Al­bert Ca­mus ar­gued, only by recog­nis­ing the ab­surd can you be free.

In his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Speak, Mem­ory, Vladimir Nabokov re­lates an episode that I have al­ways found in­struc­tive. When he was a young boy, his fa­ther took him to say howdo-you-do to a fa­mous gen­eral. The mil­i­tary man shows him a trick, ar­rang­ing some matches in the shape of a boat, but then an aide-de-camp in­ter­rupts. The Russo-Ja­panese war has bro­ken out and the gen­eral is needed at the front. Nabokov never sees the end of the trick. Many years later, his fa­ther is flee­ing the Bol­she­viks when a peas­ant ap­proaches him at a rail­way sta­tion and asks for a light. It turns out to be the gen­eral in dis­guise. The meet­ing it­self isn’t of much in­ter­est to Nabokov. “What pleases me is the evo­lu­tion of the match theme … the fol­low­ing of such the­matic de­signs through one’s life should be, I think, the true pur­pose of au­to­bi­og­ra­phy.” And of life it­self, per­haps? These the­matic de­signs run through all of our lives, ir­re­spec­tive of who or what we think is do­ing the de­sign­ing. Con­scious­ness is the gift that al­lows us to no­tice these signs and sym­bols. It’s one of our high­est call­ings, there­fore, to train our senses and fac­ul­ties to ap­pre­ci­ate them all the more, from the tini­est pearl to the phases of the moon.

Jung re­ferred to astrol­ogy’s “syn­chronic­ity prin­ci­ple” – its mean­ing­ful co­in­ci­dence. He did not be­lieve that the plan­ets lit­er­ally cause us to act in cer­tain ways. But they do pro­vide a set of co­or­di­nates that al­low us to slip out of the world of emails and alarms and into the realm of myth and po­etry. It doesn’t have to be em­pir­i­cally true. It doesn’t even need to sig­nify any­thing. Per­haps it just needs to be beau­ti­ful.

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