Once the turf of bored spinsters and new age mystics, astrology is enjoying a huge comeback among millennials. Cameron Cook investigates the local scene, putting his scepticism to the test.
Has the entire world gone esoteric, or is it just my circle of friends? My social media feeds are bursting with recipes for various health potions and it’s not uncommon for a total stranger to give you a tarot reading in a smoky bar between rounds of lager. Just before I left New York for Berlin, my friends, also bitten by the mystical bug, insisted on a tarot session. And I must confess that I found it so emotionally impactful that I still have photos of the readings on my phone. But surely the most dominant practice around me is astrology. For decades derided as hokey mumbo-jumbo for bored housewives, new age loonies and gullible kooks, an understanding of the celestial bodies’ impact on our daily lives has now become a de rigueur skill for millennials on a first date. One quick search on Instagram reveals hundreds of astrological meme accounts, equating star signs with everything from Harry Potter characters to Leonardo DiCaprio roles. And sleek, easy-to-use apps, like Co-Star and TimePassages, enable you to create your own astrology chart and follow your friends’. Meanwhile, a new breed of superstar astrologers has completely revolutionised the practice – Chani Nicholas’ inspirational weekly horoscopes, Chris Brennan’s The Astrology Podcast and Anne Ortelee’s Weekly Weather each draw scores of listeners. All this to say, it’s no longer “weird” to be into astrology, and I, the dogmatic realist, found myself wondering: is there actually something to all this? When I set off in search of Berliners to guide me through my quest for answers, I didn’t have to look very far.
Rosa de la Rosa’s apartment gives off the charm of someone spiritual enough to not invest too much in the material world, and yet has a great eye for interior design. Upon my arrival, she immediately brews me a potent mug of green tea and ushers me into her bedroom, where we sit on the floor. I met de la Rosa about a year ago at a weekly pub quiz I regularly attend. While deeply entrenched in the world of astrology, de la Rosa isn’t a professional, but getting my chart read by someone I already know seemed to be a good place to start. “I read people’s charts quite often, mostly friends’ and family’s, and every now and again some random person will be like, ‘Oh my god, I hear you do this!’” says the wide-eyed 25-year-old with a smile, while inputting my birth data – September 17, 1984, 6:44pm, Los Angeles, California – on her phone app. She informs me that my sun sign is Virgo, my rising sign Pisces, and my moon sign Gemini – all things I had already found out, but didn’t quite know how to relate to. “My first take is, Pisces rising, very bubbly, very sweet, kind of dreamy. Gemini moon, also very dreamy, not as capable of dealing with your feelings at times, but at the same time very playful. Virgo, much more analytic, more into building a structure of the world, and bringing that together in a more rational perspective.” I ask how these signs are supposed to play off of each other. “So your moon is your inner emotional self, your sun is your identity, your sense of self,” de la Rosa explains. “I’ve heard the sun described as our desires and the moon as our needs, the things we can’t go without. The ascendant, on the other hand, I perceive as a prism or a filter through which your sun enters the world. You are Cameron the Virgo, but that is entirely informed by your rising sign. In your case, I’d say your Pisces rising and your Gemini moon probably shine through a little bit more than in others.” I’m slightly disappointed, I’ve always considered myself something of a textbook Virgo: analytical, intellectual, pragmatic, organised. I’m pleased that, following further scrutiny, she can confirm “your sun is in Virgo, which is ruled by Mercury, and your Mercury is also in Virgo,” she says, swiping around on her phone. “So I would definitely describe you as a ‘heavy’ Virgo.” And with Mercury being the planet that “rules our communication, our logical understanding of the world, our ability to pragmatically thrive,” she can safely conclude that I’m “good at logic, piecing things together into one big picture”. Pointing to the circular chart that her app has created around my birth date, she proceeds with breaking it into 12 sections or “houses”, each bearing a different significance according to the position of the planets: the fact that the sun is in my seventh house is supposed to mean that I’m heavily involved in “working towards figuring out how you connect to other people, and how you make these deep connections with people work”.
At this point I feel the need to play devil’s advocate. Wouldn’t a lot of these traits also apply to people who were not born at the exact place and time that I was? Aren’t we all striving to form better relationships, and wouldn’t most people consider themselves to be somewhat articulate intellectuals? De la Rosa nods understandingly, and I get the impression she answers these questions a lot. “I got my bachelor’s degree in molecular biology, and I remember my physics teacher halting a lecture with 120 people and being like: ‘Alright, we’re going to talk about this now!’ He took the next 10 minutes to explain why astrology is bullshit,” she says, laughing. “Trying to explain astrology only in the context of what our science tells us is totally undermining the whole point. Astrology is about reading somebody’s chart, and being an astrologer is about being some sort of medium. I usually don’t talk about that because there’s a cap to the amount of esotericism that people can handle. If you want to believe in it, believe in it, if you don’t, let it go.”
Eager to speak to an actual professional, I soon discover that Randon Rosenbohm, an astrologer who writes the weekly horoscopes for Broadly network, has recently moved from New York to Berlin to run her own astrology consultancy business, goodhoroscope.de. When I meet the twenty-something in a cafe near her apartment in Prenzlauer Berg, I’m immediately struck by her demeanor: dressed down in a hoodie and jeans, she still exudes an air of mystery. Her deep brown eyes stare me down as she takes a seat, as if trying to glean something behind my own eyes (could this be some sort of technique?). I show her my chart on one of the apps I now find myself checking regularly. We realise that we are both Gemini moons. A few months ago that wouldn’t have meant much to me, but now I get a little excited. “Gemini is sort of an information-heavy sign,” she says. “If our moon is there, that’s how we find our peace of mind. I journal a lot, and I feel like Geminis and Gemini moons have to externalise things, put them on the page in order to process them.” But what about my chart? “If I want to get an idea of who you are, the first thing I need to look at is your rising sign and then what planet is associated with it, where it is in the chart. Yours is Pisces, and all things associated with Pisces: sensitive, intuitive, emotional, artistic. Then, the classical ruler of Pisces is Jupiter, and that’s in Capricorn in your 10th house. This shows that you’re a goal-oriented person – the 10th house is your reputation and career.” She pauses for a moment. “With natal charts, the possibilities are infinite. When I do readings I like to have a question guide it, because it can get crazy.”
The generation born between 1985 and 1995 was when Pluto was in Scorpio, which means an attraction to the occult.”
Writing for Broadly, one of the internet’s biggest female-interest sites, Rosenbohm has a huge influence on this generation of astrology enthusiasts. I ask why she thinks astrology has become so rampant. “I actually have an astrological explanation!” she exclaims gleefully. “The generation born between 1985 and 1995 was when Pluto was in Scorpio, which means an attraction to the occult.” The fact that astrologers could read into entire generations of people hadn’t even occurred to me. “Also, Neptune, which is your beliefs and spirituality, was in Aquarius, and Aquarius is extremely logical. In the early 2000s everyone was an atheist, and then Neptune moved into Pisces in 2011, and that’s kind of when astrology started becoming more popular.” She stops, probably realising that I’m a little in over my head. “Astrology’s renewed popularity started in the US, where, culturally, we are very religious, but our generation is not as trusting in authority. So it’s a way to be in touch with our spirituality while still being secular.” So could astrology be a (secular) belief? “My teacher, Annabel Gat says: ‘Astrology isn’t something to believe in, it’s just something to enjoy.’ I think charting your personality traits and using it for psychoanalysis is pretty contemporary, it’s amazing for therapy and getting to know more about yourself. Carl Jung, for example, was really into astrology. Science can’t explain everything,” she adds between sips of a strawberry smoothie, before concluding: “Astrology to me is kind of like the weather. You can make predictions based on patterns, which are not always 100 percent accurate, but it does give you a good feel.”
On my way home I reminisce. I’m not going to lie, I do find all this fascinating. To my relief both de la Rosa and Rosenbohm seem to practice astrology not as an exact science, rather as an interpretive process. But what draws people into the “star-gazing” community? When I asked de la Rosa, she said her queer identity played a huge part. “I realised that the largest constellation of people who were really into astrology in my life were the really cool radical queers,” she told me. “It’s about speaking a language that’s centred and focused around emotional intelligence. We were able to know ourselves and understand ourselves; to find justification and affirmation of our own emotions.” Rosenbohm had a similar outlook. “Someone recently asked me why there seems to be a gender divide when it comes to astrology. And I said yeah, astrology is for the girls and the gays. I associated astrology with nature, and men are more concerned with the material world and building things that they consider to be of use, whereas more evolved men who are in touch with nature and with their feelings – and this sounds very gender essentialist – are probably more interested in it. It connects us with an aspect of the world that I think a lot of people deny.”
Astrology as a way to get more in touch with your inner self? That may sound a little new age-y, but think about it – how many of the world’s ills could be eradicated if people would simply take a moment to get to know their true wants and desires? Part of me is still resisting the full plunge though. Can all of our problems really be traced back to the stars? Can a stranger truly unlock the mysteries of my soul just by reading my chart? Perhaps I’m being too sceptical, or perhaps I’m being too forgiving. Or, maybe, I’m just that much of a Virgo.