The New York Times, America’s newspaper of record, has a history of treating astrology with benevolent amusement, even a whiff of credulity. The paper is happy to interview horoscope makers once in a while, and then presents their answers with a chatty look-at-us-girls-being-silly-together vibe that reliably glosses over the sheer nonsensicality of planets-based predictions.
For instance, here’s what the Times‘ Amanda Hess wrote two summers ago.
As a woman on the internet, my feeds are frequently stirred by the actions of digital mystics — astrologers, tarot readers, sage smudgers, crystal outfitters and generally witchy women.
I’m a Gemini, so I’m of two minds about the rise of the mystical internet. My curmudgeonly twin points out that it’s all a bunch of nonsense made up to get women to buy stuff. But my empathetic twin says that there’s something quite rational about it, too, because the mystical internet represents a much-needed rejection of the hypermasculine, data-driven, crypto-libertarian values that run so much of what we do online.
The second part of that sentence is a non sequitur. It may explain what Hess enjoys about astrology and tarot cards, but it doesn’t begin to address the promise of the word because. There’s “something quite rational” about things like astrology because…. Well, because what?
Now the paper is at it again, with a new piece by Hayley Phelan that starts off promisingly (“Will Coronavirus Kill Astrology? The pandemic has affected all of us. Who saw it coming?”) and then collapses like a bad soufflé.
Astrologers, the haters say, write their horoscopes in such a broad, general way that anyone could find something that applied to them, especially if they’re really looking for it.
“Haters”? How about about “realists,” “actual planetary scientists,” or “people who prefer facts over guff“?
But then March 2020 arrived, and with it the dawning of a global pandemic, the magnitude and universality of which seemed to contradict not just astrology, but the very notion that each sign could have its own fate (after all, we all are facing a common threat at the moment and it doesn’t take a seer to know that most of us will be spending a lot more time at home).
Ah, astrology’s death knell! And not a moment too s—
[H]oroscopes [now] appear to be more popular than ever.
Amid the flurry of questions that loom over our daily lives — How long will this last? Will things ever go back to normal? Can we trust the people in charge? — other, more celestially-based questions, began emerging again: Is Mercury in retrograde? When was the last time Saturn and Pluto were conjunct?
You know, the important questions of our time.
The rest of Phelan’s reporting consists of a few remarkably genteel calls to en vogue astrologers, all of whom have their say without the Times scribe pretending that she’s pursuing truth rather than stenography.
Not that we don’t learn a thing or two.
One celebrated astrologer, Chani Nicholas, told Phelan she knew 2020 wouldn’t be a walk in the park,
… but it wasn’t only the stars that gave her that clue. “It’s an election year,” she said. “And election years are always tough.” Add that to growing warnings about a coming recession, and her own astrological calculations, and Ms. Nicholas felt confident in her own conjectures.
But, she added,
“This pandemic is bigger than we could have foreseen.”
Really? Isn’t foreseeing things supposed to be Nicholas’s job? A professional soothsayer not being able to anticipate even a hint of the biggest story since World War II! A fuck-up of that magnitude surely puts the definitive lie to astrology’s perplexing pretensions. If a TV weatherman predicted a sunny day (or a mere spot of rain) the night before the hurricane of the century battered the coast and killed hundreds of thousands, he’d be out of a job within a day. So why are the astrology charlatans still sitting pretty, filling column inches at the Gray Lady?
Behold this vapid new-age verbiage:
Steph Koyfman, a former journalist who founded The Daily Hunch, a site that offers personalized daily horoscopes, agrees that astrology can help provide tools to cope with uncertainty and the daily frustrations and fears brought on by the pandemic.
“I think astrology might offer comfort because it has a way of naming and unpacking archetypal patterns; it allows people to put words to what they’re already feeling and that helps them feel witnessed,” Ms. Koyfman said. “It’s also a way of orienting yourself in history and time. It helps take you beyond, oh my God, why is this happening to me? This is just how time works. It’s a cycle.”
Perhaps an astrologer named Susan Miller deserves (but doesn’t receive — not from the Times anyway) the greatest scorn. (I previously wrote about her here.) In January, during a TV segment on CBS New York, she predicted that 2020 would be “a great year, and it will be a prosperous year.” When the pandemic made a mockery of her meager talents, she sought to wow her disappointed fans with a special coronavirus report that
….laid the blame on Pluto.
For her part, Phelan then erroneously calls Pluto a “planet.” Goofy!
Apparently, the small but powerful planet “deals with huge financial matters, masses of people — and viruses.” It went on to explain why some countries were affected more than others: “Italy is ruled by Gemini, for June is the month the citizens celebrate the unification of Italy. Gemini rules the lungs, so that’s why Italy has been hit so hard — this virus attacks the lungs.”
That may be, but it seems just as obvious that astrology attacks the brain.
(Image via Shutterstock)