Discussion of news topics with a point of view, including narratives by individuals regarding their own experiences

My decade-long relationship with horoscopes has always toggled between subdued interest and obsessive dependence.

In periods of happiness and contentment, I have used astrology as a lens to analyze myself. In times of transition, like a breakup or a job change, I have found myself increasingly taken with the comfort and preordination that a horoscope dictates, calling up weekly and monthly horoscopes as a way to predict my fate.

Yet each time I dip my toes in the waters of horoscope obsession, I soon live to regret it. After all, most horoscopes have to operate under some sort of absolute: Things must begin or end in a prediction. Some days don’t result in a cataclysmic shift or a sudden realization. Some days offer pleasures as simple as buying a new plant, talking to a friend or eating a home-cooked meal. But these mundanities are lost within the average horoscope.

Given my anxious mind, horoscopes have a tendency to create problems where I thought there were none. A throwaway sentence might flood me with self-doubt: “This month will force you to focus on your relationship and what is serving you — and what isn’t.” When going through a challenging period, that feels comforting. My horoscope thinks things will get better, I might think. But when life calms down, these statements start to become ominous and foreboding, hinting of misfortunes to come.

Even when I have managed to convince myself to quit cold turkey, I can’t seem to stave off the urge to check my horoscope. As many as 70 million Americans read their horoscope every day, according to the American Federation of Astrologers.

And as a global pandemic thrust us all into uncertainty, astrology was perhaps among the only businesses that had a good 2020. Astrologers saw their website traffic go up and their requests for consultations increase as people sought what they saw as the clarity of the stars.

California-based astrologer Laurie A. Baum, who is also a licensed therapist, said she watched her business go up by about 40 percent since the pandemic began.

A former journalist, Baum has been in the astrology field for about 35 years. When she started, public views on astrology were very different from how they are now. But there was still a pervasive curiosity to know more.

“Back when I started, astrology wasn’t as widely accepted as it is now, but people would say to me, ‘I don’t believe in astrology. Where’s my moon?’” Baum said. “Even back then, people were secretly interested.”

Still, there is a difference between a birth chart reading, which delineates the specific planets at the time, date and location of one’s birth, and a weekly or monthly horoscope in a publication. Horoscopes designated by zodiac sign are meant to constitute a wide variety of people — they simply can’t account for all of the nuances evident in each person within that sign. The “one-size-fits-all” approach has its limitations, according to Baum.

“People who read those kinds of readings should beware of the limitation that it’s very general and take it with a grain of salt,” she said.

My obsession started years ago, when an intern at a former job casually suggested I do my chart online. Like so many people, I love nothing more than an in-depth personality quiz, and that’s what this promised to be. But instead of a positive, affirming answer, my birth chart started to feel like a Greek oracle that had given me a cryptic yet negative look into my future. At one point, the chart told me that my Venus, the love-related planet, was in Virgo, promising me a difficult love life and even possibly a divorce. I cried to my therapist at an appointment a week after, telling her that I was doomed and destined to never be happy. She tried to dissuade me of that fear, reminding me that this was, after all, a horoscope.

But Elizabeth Greene, a New York-based licensed mental health counselor, said she sees horoscopes do a lot of good for her clients, especially those looking for confidence in their future.

“Horoscopes can really resonate for people who are highly anxious and are looking for a way to feel like they know what’s coming,” she said. “They have a sense of, ‘I know what’s coming down the pike and I can plan for it,’ and that can help people feel like they have more control over their lives and help them actually take chances.”

But where trouble starts is when clients turn to astrology rather than really delving into the inner work of their past experiences and even past trauma, she said. A client might mention their partner’s zodiac sign as a reason for a recent conflict rather than examining their own history.

“If the client is overly reliant on a horoscope or astrology, they can be resistant to going deeper to understand the underlying issues that may be causing them difficulty,” Greene said.

And there is one phenomenon that can do more harm than good: the oft-mentioned phenomenon “Mercury in retrograde,” which astrologers believe can cause delays and logistical errors and is thought to be a bad time to travel or sign contracts.

“The whole concept of that has been really, at times, deleterious to my clients,” she said. “For someone who is highly anxious, it can give them something to latch onto so as not to take a risk.”

This essential dilemma gets to the root of my problems with astrology. When a horoscope or reading affirms an essential part of my personality or something I hope to happen, it’s validating. But when it offers a worrisome look at the future with no potential solution, I feel helpless. Baum’s answer is simple: The stars may offer a template of what our future might look like, but we still have the freedom of choice.

“It’s important for the person who is reading the chart to really understand that we have free will — these are just energies that are coming,” she said. “When the clock goes to 1 p.m., it’s telling you that there’s a movement. It’s not telling you what you’re going to do.”

For John Zeravich, a California-based chiropractor and one of Baum’s clients, his astrological work over the years has taught him that his relationship with the stars can be “fluid and mercurial.”

“What I’ve learned to do is to understand that, as a being, I can make decisions. This stuff is not written in the stars,” he said.

As a chiropractor and healer, Zeravich said he likes to run birth charts of potential clients before working with them. But he doesn’t mold the patient to the reading. If the chart offers something that doesn’t gel with what he sees right in front of him, he takes that into account, he said.

As I continue to talk to others about how they use horoscopes in their own lives, I find myself wondering how to strike a healthy balance myself. How do I allow them to illuminate key parts of who I am without feeling like a life sentence to a doomed future?

I come back to something Greene and I discussed — that horoscopes can serve as a comforting balm, the voice of a friend prodding you to take a risk because something better awaits. And perhaps if I keep what works from a horoscope and leave what doesn’t, a better — and less anxious — future awaits me as well.

I suppose I can do this by seeing them for what they are: a guide and not a mandate. After all, what I was really seeking from a horoscope was an exact blueprint of my future. And no birth chart, no reading, no monthly horoscope will give me that.

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