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Why Gen Z are bringing back astrology

In a stressful and data driven world, today’s young people are finding comfort in the ineffable… even if they’re too logical to really believe it.

Astrology is a meme. People have been jokingly blaming their misfortunes on mercury being in ‘retrograde’ for yonks, and categorising ‘the signs as’ literally anything: cat breeds, Oscar Wilde quotesStranger Things characters, and types of chip. But astrology is one of those rare memes that has a respect and fondness for its subject matter.

Millennials have been towing the line between poking fun of astrology and embracing it for quite some time now. When considered with the decline in religiosity in the west, this seems to prove that humanity will always reach for mysticism in some form.

But Gen Z are taking the obsession with star signs to the next level through social channels. Experts believe that in a stressful and data-driven world, we may be looking to the stars for comfort as well as a bit of a laugh.

What is astrology? 

Though it’s been around in some form or another for thousands of years, ‘star signs’ as we know them today had their heyday in the New Age movement of the 60s and 70s. As history tends to peak and trough, this lean in to the mystical was met with a strong reaction against it soon after, and astrology faded into the background.

However, LA astrologist Chani Nicholas states to the The Atlantic that ‘something [has] happened in the last five years that’s given it an edginess, a relevance for this time and place.’  Lucie Greene, who works for trend tracking group J Walter Thompson, states in a report called ‘Unreality’ that ‘over the past few years, we’ve really seen a reframing of New Age practices, very much geared toward a Millennial and young Gen Z quotient.’

Whilst astrology has never been accepted by the scientific community or mainstream society, it has its own kind of logic. The practice ascribes meaning to the placement of the sun, the moon, and the planets within the 12 sections of the sky – aka the signs of the zodiac.

Whilst you’ll likely know your sun sign (where the sun was when you were born) the placement of the moon and the other planets on this day is also important. There are detailed, and I mean detailed, maps and methods to figuring out your astrological position at any given time.

Why are Gen Z so ob-stressed?

In some ways, astrology is perfectly suited for Gen Z and the intent age. There’s a low barrier to entry, and nearly endless depths to plumb if you’ve the time. The availability of more in-depth information online has given this cultural wave of astrology a certain erudition.

But I, and many experts, have another theory (note: experts were probably first with the theory and then I used their research to bolster my pondering). People tend to turn to astrology in times of acute stress.

A 1982 study by the psychologist Graham Tyson found that people who consult astrologers do so in response to stressers in their lives, stating that ‘under conditions of high stress’, the individual is prepared to use astrology as a coping device even though under low-stress conditions he [or she] does not believe in it.’

According to multiple studies, including this one by the American Psychological Association in 2016, Gen Z is the most stressed generation living, and is also the generation most likely to say that their stress has increased in the last five years. Millennials and Gen Z were significantly more likely to record in the study that reading/ watching the news stressed them out.

And its not hard to see why, with climate change, political infighting, and international conflict cementing themselves ever more as a part of our future.

Astrology offers a beacon to those in crisis, seemingly providing a window to the future. When you’re overwhelmed with pessimism and the arbitrariness of life, it can be comforting to have someone outline your actions as part of a wider plan. As someone who constantly feels that they’re powerless against climate change, I can understand the desire to have your place in the universe mapped out for you.

As it becomes less and less fashionable to seek this kind of comfort from religion in the west’s secular society, astrology is now the ‘trendy’ way to look for answers.

I do believe in astrology, I do, I do

What’s most surprising about the resurgence of the mystical, however, is that whilst many young people are becoming interested in astrology, they’re still claiming to not technically believe in it – after all, Gen Z are an extremely adept generation when it comes to research. A sincere burgeoning interest in the art doesn’t imply people are wholesale abandoning rationality, but merely that there’s something about astrology that’s filling an existing gap.

For some, astrology’s predictions function like Dumbo’s feather, or that potion Ron takes in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince – a comforting magic to hold before you realise you could fly all along.

Young people are starting to get sick of a life lived so intensely on the grid. They’re experiencing fatigue with dating apps and social media. Gen Z seem to be craving something more in this era of quantified selves, and tracked locations, and indexed answers to every possible question.

What’s more, it might be that millennials and Gen Z are more comfortable living in the borderlands between scepticism and belief because they’ve spent so much of their lives on the internet – a domain that is both real and unreal.

Ruby Warrington, whose New Age guidebook Material Girl, Mystical World came out in 2017, had this to say on her astrology focused website The Numinous: ‘I think that almost as a counterbalance to the fact that we live in such a quantifiable and meticulously organised time, there is a desire to connect to and tap into that numinous [supernatural and mysterious] part of ourselves.’

This sort of cultural 180 has happened before. Excuse my literary nerd-out, but The Enlightenment was followed by a wave of Romantic era poets and authors like Byron and Shelley who focused on the sublime and ineffable in nature and God.

The concept of ‘knowing everything’ can sometimes be just as uncomfortable as knowing nothing.

What can we take from this?

Nicholas Campion, a historian of astrology at Brown University, points out that the question of whether people ‘believe’ in astrology or not is an arbitrary one. People might not ‘believe’ in star signs per se, but still identify with their zodiac and make decisions based on their horoscope. There is more nuance here than stats allow for.

Personally, I believe that whilst the resurgence of astronomy is a sad reflection of the anxiousness that plagues our generation regarding our futures, it also is a good example of the willingness of today’s youth to accept other people’s beliefs and coping mechanisms.

The ability to both fiercely meme a belief system, and to not besmirch or belittle it, is to me a microcosmic example of the Gen Z attitude – endlessly sarcastic, but stringently hopeful.

It’s part of the human condition to want to try to create narratives around our experiences. And the movement away from a religiousness that has caused so much conflict in the past to something you can safely meme about might be a good thing overall for our generation.