Who Needs Astrology?

From Myths to Memes, Tabitha Prado-Richardson Wonders About the Stars

Working at the late night florist was a jumble of extremes, as rushes of customers called for urgent bouquets, often with dire emotional weight (birthdays, anniversaries, deaths and newborns). Then, once everything was sent out, the sunlight gave way to headlights beaming from the highway, the shop emptied, leaving me alone under fluorescent lighting to sweep the corners and listen to Sade.

Sometimes in the boredom I entertained silly fantasies of playing matchmaker, sending anonymous flowers to play tricks, knowing the emotional currency of a few roses. I later learnt that most people, mostly women, were more likely to be frightened than excited about a red rose delivery with no name attached.

When I began to do chart readings for other people, it was tempting to use the readings as a platform for my own judgments about what I felt was right for other people. It feels more caring now to protect the autonomy of others, especially people who have trusted me to reflect their life back to them. I also realized that while some people do want to interrogate and excavate themselves, others just want to be seen as they are in that moment. While I respect people who are shy and prefer written readings, I enjoy face to face readings more, as you ask the owner of the chart to confirm your speculations, and you build the meaning of the chart together. These processes have helped me to avoid astrological knowledge as a proxy for actual knowledge about a person.

Anxiety and uncertainty about others can motivate a dependence on astrology for understanding intimacy and connection. But no knowledge of Venus or Mars placements can truly determine if a relationship will work, or if somebody will like you. Natal charts might seem like a map of another person’s psyche, life, and trajectory, but ultimately, you will always know yourself best, and other people know themselves best.

But I dread the idea of a white astrologer making memes about their Makemake placement.

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The invention of the telescope was revolutionary for Western astrology. Saturn was no longer the limit of the solar system. Uranus was the first planet discovered by telescope, which then became known as the planet ruling upheaval and sudden inspiration. Then Neptune and Pluto joined Uranus as part of the “outer planets.” Due to their long orbits—Pluto’s irregular orbit takes 248 years—they are said to correspond more to wider social shifts in astrology, only really making a noticeable impact when aspecting a closer planet. As time went on, more and more astronomical bodies were developed as astrological points: asteroids, Trans-Neptunian objects, fixed stars. There are now hundreds of points you can place on a chart, many with established meanings and interpretations.

Occasionally, my natal chart phone app updates to include new objects being used by astrologers, along with their interpretation. I was surprised to see a new dwarf planet “Makemake” at 08° Virgo, a name which didn’t seem to fit with the usual Greco-Roman classical mythology of the other planets and asteroids. Originally known as “Easterbunny,” this dwarf planet was renamed officially after the creation deity of Rapa Nui, otherwise known post-colonization as Easter Island. It was then that I learnt that there was an emerging tradition of naming new planets after figures in Indigenous legends and myths.

Not all astrological traditions believe in the endless accumulation of astrological bodies, but this expansion into non-Western mythologies reflects white, colonial entitlement to use racial, ethnic and cultural difference as the “spice” to season the “dull dish that is mainstream white culture,” as bell hooks expresses in Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance. hooks places a new interest in primitivism at the center of the white desire for difference, echoing in the astrological associations of “Makemake” as a planet able to return us to the “wisdom of the earth.”

It is easy to be flippant about astrology when its standard Greco-Roman deities have been recognized for millennia in Western culture and language. But I dread the idea of a white astrologer making memes about their Makemake placement. I know little about how the people of Rapa Nui would feel about their creation god being used as yet another astrological archetype—I do not know if they were even consulted before the dwarf planet was named. But I can anticipate that the haphazard subsumption of their stories into Western astrology would be potentially corrosive, like many other instances of indigenous and Black spiritualities being co-opted by Western New Age movements.

There are probably countless other ways to read the night sky. Had Western colonization not fractured and destroyed Indigenous knowledges and sciences around the world, we might know many different names and stories for constellations and planets. Astrologer Alice Sparkly Kat believes that there is no need for people of color to revere classical, Western astrology insofar as Western culture has been hostile to us. But we also have a responsibility to protect and preserve non-Western cultures, to respect which traditions are open and which are closed. If living on indigenous land, we can aim to learn more about the systems of astrology and astronomy that predated colonization—not to begin using as our own, but to make space for multiple understandings.

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Like my copy of Symbols for Women, another fortuitous second-hand purchase was a grey marl, oversized T-shirt that says: MADE IN 1993: ALL ORIGINAL PARTS. The slogan makes me feel like an intentional collab between my parents, using their DNA to make something unlike what the world has yet seen, unleashed upon society on my date of birth. The thought has the doubled effect of inflating and deflating my ego, as I remember even as I may be unique and “special” in context, I have been shaped far more than I can realize.

Some say that you inherit your natal chart, that a particular, emphasized sign or planet can repeat itself through family lines until resolved through healing. Being reflective of the planets’ positions at your exact time of birth, your chart is also a snapshot of the same transits your parents were experiencing at that time.

It’s doubtful that my mother feels like it’s 1993 again whenever she looks at me. But it feels resonant with the ways body memory can become an unquestioned personal mythology; the ways your family’s bodies are memorialized through time. Though my younger sister’s hands are now grown and elegant, with gold rings and buffed nails, in my eyes, they morph so quickly to the pudgy, avocado-smooth, sticky five-year-old hands I used to hold crossing the road.

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In January 2020, Saturn and Pluto will make an exact conjunction at 22° Capricorn. Saturn and Pluto conjoin every 34 years. It is generally considered one of the more formidable transits: both planets are associated with difficulty and death. But while Saturn is barren, like a field cleared of crop ready to meet winter, Pluto is the powerful regeneration that comes with death, the renewal that can happen in the process of letting go.

At that moment, Ceres, a dwarf planet, will also be part of the exact conjunction at 22° Capricorn. Ceres, also known as Demeter in Greek myth, is the Greco-Roman goddess of agriculture and fertility. One of her central myths is the story of how her daughter, Persephone, was stolen by Pluto (also known as Hades), god of the Underworld to be made his wife. Having learned that her daughter was taken from her, Demeter was full of fury, and inflicted punishment by killing all the agriculture and throwing society into famine. Persephone was returned to restore Demeter’s fertility powers to the land, but she had eaten some pomegranate seeds before leaving the Underworld, tethering her there, and eventually a deal was made where Persephone returned to Demeter for two thirds of the year, and spent one third with her husband, Pluto, in the Underworld. While Persephone and Pluto are together, Demeter grieves and the land becomes infertile again—this mythology explained the change of seasons. Persephone became known as the queen of the Underworld and death, but also spring and flowers, as her reconciliation with Demeter marks the birth of a new season cycle.

This myth is likely to be based in part on the older, Sumerian myth of Inanna and Ereshkigal. Inanna is one of the oldest known goddesses, ruling known feminine subjects like love, sex and beauty, but also war and politics. She was known for being foolhardy, and instead of being stolen into the Underworld, went down of her own volition to take over from her older sister and Underworld queen, Ereshkigal. Inanna is punished, killed, and trapped in the Underworld, but is then resurrected and returned to the living world at the pleas of her friend and companion, the messenger goddess Ninshubur. Ereshkigal demands someone else to replace her, so Inanna, noticing that her husband Dumuzid (a shepherd god ruling agriculture) hadn’t even mourned her departure, sends him down. His movement between the Underworld and Inanna becomes the logic behind seasonal change.

Retrograde logic is hard to reconcile with everyday expectations of work and school, institutions which rarely welcome fluctuating tempos of living.

I learned about the story of Inanna and Ereshkigal from Chani Nicholas’s Venus Retrograde online work- shop. She read sections of the myth over weeks, giving time to digest the symbolism in each step. As Venus retrogrades, it appears to go backwards in the sky, moving so close to the Sun that it is imperceptible, and changing from an evening to a morning star. Mercury’s retrograde is more infamous for its chaotic effects, but retrogrades symbolize a broader slowing down, where you look back to evaluate the choices you’ve made, to see what is lingering, to redo and recommit to your present moment, before moving forward again. Sometimes that involves realizing mistakes, confronting issues you thought were resolved, reclarifying messages you thought were clear.

The mythology of the Underworld journey—explored through Persephone, Inanna, and even Mercury himself as the only god in the Greco-Roman canon who could pass freely into the Underworld—provides a framework for these slower, even regressive moments. Retrogrades can be opportunities to confront whatever blocks us from moving into the future, whether that be trauma, baggage, old wounds and expired self-concepts. The cyclical nature helps us remember that this work is never truly complete. It is human for the same issues to arise again and again. Rather than a linear progression, growth is expansive and patchy.

Retrograde logic is hard to reconcile with everyday expectations of work and school, institutions which rarely welcome fluctuating tempos of living. But these changes are expected in astrology and transits. Astrology’s rhythms are more respect l of the body, understanding there needs to be equal time for rest and work, reflection and action. Sometimes, you may even need more time for rest than work for extended periods—your body may demand it, through illness or disability. Astrology can provide a framework for understanding that need for rest, and seeing value in it, as a way of living that can provide its own insights.

Like Mercury’s retrograde, another more commonly known astrological time of reflection is the Saturn Return. Taking roughly 29 and a half years to complete its orbit, Saturn’s effect when it returns to the place in the sky recorded in one’s natal chart usually begins at about 27 or 28, and is an almost three-year process of evaluating whether you are truly living to your values. It is generally regarded as a painful journey from youth to true adulthood, but in that definition, also understands the twenties as a time of exploration before this “true adulthood” begins. Rather than the immediate expectation of success and drive pushed by capitalist rhetoric, Saturn’s transits provide an alternative structure of growing and learning, based in gradual practice of being responsible for yourself and others, where appropriate. Experiential learning is based in mistake and failure as much as success, understanding it as a necessity, rather than a liability, and the basis of how we learn to be accountable.

These transit rhythms form stories with beginning, middle and end. Many long-term transits work in threes, as the outer planets retrograde back and forth, resonating with the “two steps forward, one step back” model of growth. These stories, while generally continuing for as long as the planets keep moving, give us temporary but effective resolution as each one concludes and a new one begins. Brené Brown emphasizes the importance of stories in her work on shame and resilience, noting that constructing stories about why we experience what we experience can help us feel more connected with others and even trigger the release of hormones like cortisol and oxytocin. According to Brown, we are wired to make sense of our lives through noticing patterns. In this way, by learning to create more compassionate stories about ourselves, we can change the way we engage with the world.

Astrology can be used for self-compassion. It can be used as a form of emotional release. It can be used as a method of connection. It can give us a shorthand for explaining ourselves, and it can help us feel more understood. Adrienne Maree Brown on her podcast How to Survive the End of the World, interviews Chani Nicholas and asks her the fundamental question: why astrology? Nicholas affirms something that I think is also at the root of the current hunger for astrology by saying:

It’s always teaching me [. . .] that we are made exactly as we need to be, and we are each given exactly what we need in this lifetime, and that there is undeniably a purpose for each one of us that we need to live out [. . .] and if we choose to engage and connect with it [. . .] we will live a life that feels deeply meaningful and full of purpose and hopefully also love and joy [. . .] things unfold in ways that they couldn’t possibly otherwise. I think what I’m trying to say is that it’s given me an incredible amount of faith.

This is a form of fatalism, but it feels more like an optimistic fatalism than pragmatic. Instead of glossing over an oppressive situation, this faith comes from the feeling of alignment and peace that can emerge from being honest about where you came from and where you want to be.

I’m not sure I would have been prompted into reckoning with my own personal trauma without
the framework of astrology guiding me. There is little structural support to help with such messy, self-excavating work. It has given me faith. Maybe not necessarily in anything tangible, but I have faith that there are small shifts happening every day, there are pockets of freedom, there are people rebelling and resisting in their own ways. The world isn’t overdetermined, not by the stars nor by structures. Our creativity and agency is interconnected, spilling over into each other, through movement and inspiration.

Feeling faith is vulnerable and difficult to talk about openly, so I wonder if many of the astrology meme creators secretly feel similarly mystical at times or if their interest lies at the level of memes alone. Either way, I reserve the right to complain about petty depictions of my own placements: to all the online astrologers who have clearly had a bad experience with a Capricorn, I see you. After years of astrological study—studying both books and people—I learned that more joy came from accepting what was unknown rather than attempting to know all. When I began to expand my astrological knowledge, I learnt I wasn’t just an earthy Capricorn Sun, but that I had Moon in Cancer and Venus in Pisces, two very connective, playful water sign placements that value love, nurturing and kindness. It gave me so much relief to begin thinking of myself as having different energies and modalities within me that came of different contexts, and I learnt that other people were the same—they will always have many different faces, some of which you might never see.

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From The Lifted Brow #41. Used with permission of The Lifted Brow. Copyright 2019 by Tabitha Prado-Richardson.






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