astrology: maybe there’s something to it

astrology: maybe there's something to it

Let’s talk about astrology.

That’s right, folks, I said astrology — not astronomy.

It’s funny, actually, because when I tell people I studied astronomy in university, they’ll often ask “Wait, is that like horoscopes and stuff?” The answer is no. No, it is not horoscopes and stuff. Astronomy is the study of space: stars, planets, galaxies, dust, how they all work together to make up the universe. Astrology, on the other hand, is the following, according to Merriam-Webster:

The study of how the positions of the stars and movements of the planets have a supposed influence on events and on the lives and behavior of people.

To me, that’s pretty clear. One of them is a science, and one of them is… well… nuts. Astrology posits that the star sign “under” which you were born will determine your personality and your fate. And, if you don’t know, that boils down to the year and the date you were born. (I’m not going to get into “ruling planets” and all that stuff here, mostly because I have no clue what it’s all about.)

Let’s use the example of my sign, Virgo. Anyone born between August 22 and September 22 is a Virgo. So that means that the horoscopes you read in the paper or online for Virgo apply to absolutely everyone born within that 32-day period. And that means that if two people have similar birthdays, they will have approximately the same personalities, and the same things will happen to them in their lives.

I’ve met a number of people who swear by astrology. But I’m sorry, are you for real?!

When it comes to reading your horoscope in the newspaper or on the internet, it’s pretty obvious how it works. You’re about as likely to see truth in it as you are to see truth in a fortune cookie message. It’s so incredibly vague that it could happen to anybody! For example, here’s my horoscope today from Astrology.com:

You are starting to think twice about a compromise you recently made with a friend — what you thought was going to happen is not happening, and now you’re wondering if you made a mistake. Well, you’re stuck with the consequences of your actions, so just make the best of them and try not to have any regrets. You can be up front about any concerns you are having with the other person, but you can’t expect them to make a change to suit your needs. It’s just not realistic right now.

Uhh, okay, let’s see… Maybe this could be about work? Or someone I know from school? Or could it be my boyfriend? Or…

I could play this game all day long, and eventually, I’d come up with something in my life that makes this horoscope applicable. That’s all fine and dandy. But it doesn’t make it credible.

However, there’s a little more to say about the expectations for a particular sign in general. Each one is associated with a number of traits that are thought to be typical of that sign. For example, Virgos are known to be:

  • Shy or introverted
  • Independent
  • Critical
  • Meticulous
  • Perfectionists (source)

Check, check, check, check, check. And these things aren’t relevant to everyone, right? I’ve also started noticing some “typical” Capricorns, “typical” Scorpios, and so on. Obviously, not everyone fits the bill for their zodiac sign. But is there something more going on here than just random guessing?

I think maybe.

My theory is as follows.

Since the dawn of life on Earth, we have lived in a continuous cycle, thanks to the astronomical principle of gravity: we travel around the Sun, thus coming closer or further away from it due to both our distance from it and the tilt of the Earth’s axis. For anyone outside of a tropical area, this meant that winters were fundamentally different from summers. Over time, our lives started to revolve (haha, punny) around this principle. Everything from agriculture to school years, from migrations to taxes depends on the time of year.

I do not believe that astrology has any impact on our natural dispositions. But I think it may be possible that the time of year you were born has an impact on how you end up being raised and how your life plays out.

My theory is more specific to the modern era. Realistically, though, now is the time when people are using astrology as a self-help tool more than anything else, so that’s probably when it’s most relevant anyway. I’ll give the example of my own sign, Virgo. Feel free to ponder your own horoscope and leave a comment with your findings.

When I read that list of characteristics that represent Virgos, I immediately assume that this person is your standard academic nerd (like me!). Why would that be important? Well, consider the birth dates associated with this sign. In the Northern Hemisphere, at least, this corresponds with the start of the new school year. So while you’re celebrating your birthday, you’re also gearing up for or just starting to focus on academics. In my case, that often translated into birthday presents that also doubled as school supplies. Let’s be practical, right? And that’s what a typical Virgo is like. This is different in the Southern Hemisphere, but maybe that’s why a number of Virgos I know actually match the description, like I do.

In summary, I’m starting to think that astrology may have some truth to it after all…but more in a descriptive sense than a prescriptive one.

What do you think about astrology— is it fact, fantasy, or somewhere in between? How accurately does your sign match your personality?