Fates and Choices
Edited by Elizabeth Rose
The Fault in our Charts
The moment I opened Seventeen magazine as an impressionable, acne-riddled 13-year-old and discovered I was a “Leo”, I was as ravenous as a lion for a sense of self. There, written on the glossy pages and similarly aligned in the stars, was my fate! I was in the extroverted, confident, life-of-the-party main-character category, apparently. Although a bit dramatic, irrational, and not so great with money, Leos sounded to me like real-life rockstars. I was instantly hooked. At middle school I felt like I needed to speak up to fulfill my August 16th destiny, and that any moment of desired solidarity was simply a lapse in my own personality. Known for my craving to socialize and desire to lead, I became the captain of every sport I played in and was the student body president of my high school. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Such a classic Leo, bragging about her accomplishments. Cringe!”. I’m not sure if high school achievements are even braggable as a 25-year-old, and while I’m not afraid to admit that I do love the spotlight when I can get it, I’m simply bringing these examples up as context for the question of the effect of astrological signs –or other character-categorizing systems – that identify us as falling into specific and distinct character groups. How much do these systems get spot on, and how much of our personalities have actually, conversely, been shaped by these character defining categories, especially if we embrace them during such a formative period of our development?
Had I not been told that I was supposed to be outgoing and luxury-seeking, would I still have pushed myself to attend events when my social battery was on empty, or justify my impulse purchases on the fact that I had no control over my decisions? It’s hard to say. On the one hand, I believe our given zodiac signs have the potential to reaffirm our own personalities, desires, and goals which may have been formed before we even knew what a Libra was. But on the other hand, these detailed, seemingly binding, and intricate descriptions of who we are supposed to be could have also had an effect on how we grew into ourselves, and in some cases, our future and the futures of those around us – determining rather than describing our fates. Recently, Jennifer Lopez (also a Leo) allegedly fired some of her backup dancers after she discovered they were Virgos. Other stories range from people refusing to date Geminis, not getting in an Uber if the driver is a Scorpio, or mothers even waiting to give birth to ensure their newborn arrived in a satisfactory time in space. Regardless if you believe that zodiac signs are 100% real or absolute nonsense, the impact they have on how people view themselves and other people cannot be overlooked.
As younger generations become less keen on traditional religion, a desire to make connections and minimize anxieties about the future still remains. Humans are hardwired to be worried about tomorrow, a month from now, years ahead– it’s what allowed us to evolve into proactive, protected animals with maybe even too much time to ponder. But if you have something that helps guide your future, whether that be mainstream astrology, spooky tarot card readings, or elaborate Meyers Briggs tests, it helps us feel that some part of our destiny is out of our hands. What a relief. A common American Catholic phrase is “Let go and let God”, and similarly among other religions, belief systems rely on this same absence of choice– the faith in some higher power that is creating our futures for us, something that was planned all along. From the weight we attribute to our Pottermore test results, and our recurring participation in Buzzfeed’s “which colander matches your personality” tests, it is clear our generation is craving answers to our futures, explanations for our selves, and how to best navigate the challenges we face.
Challenges, in fact, may be the only established thing we know about our future. From the moment we first read our horoscopes, we were also told that the world ahead is predicted to be filled with frightening environmental and social disasters. It’s no wonder we’ve found solace in a belief that tells you who to be friends with, how to spend your weekend, or advice on an upcoming decision. It’s a light in our seemingly dark tunnel, a refuge to the everyday mundane of an often overwhelming world. However, this is not a new phenomenon, as astrological calendars date back as far as the first century BC, where the Aztec Zodiac was called Tonalpohualli, meaning “counting of the days”, and had twenty signs (I’m a seductive attention-loving snake—go figure!). About four centuries later, in ancient China, the Chinese Zodiac became the foundation for a calendar which is made up of twelve different animals and remains very much celebrated today. It’s clear that during times of uncertainty about the future or one’s self, humans pursue answers in as many ways as outcomes are available. Did the Ox of the Chinese Zodiac know he was stubborn and relentlessly adhere to this prophecy? Could a child raised in the city of Tenochtitlan, or modern day Mexico City, rebel against her birth sign of Xochiti (flower), and grow spikes around her personality like a cactus defending itself in the desert 2000 years ago?
While brands have recently capitalized on an astrology-loving customer base due to its comforting and personalized feel, the history of astrology tells us that this is not a modern occurrence. Humans not only love to have their future written in the stars but I argue that we have allowed this belief to shape and determine the personalities of generations of people, due to the cultural salience and trust in such foretellings. Just as a placebo more often than not works in the same way medicine can, the effects are no less real. While it may not be harmful per se, the beliefs we adhere to can shape how we view ourselves and interact with our communities. It may not be fair to cross someone off of the RSVP list because of a mere title such as Taurus, but did that same stubborn “bull” become who they are because a magazine told their 12-year-old self they should be? I’m no future teller, nor personality expert, but I can assure my dear friend who wears a crab on her chest every day also reaffirms her lovable, dependable, Cancer traits in doing so. While astrological signs may not be as concrete as the asteroids shooting above our heads at night, or as constructed as the constellations, the impacts on our fates and choices are clear. My hope is that everyone sees the best in their readings (and themselves) and they do not let an astrological sign, or any category for that matter, define them, or the people we share our existence with.
More to read about fates and choices: The Midnight Library by Matt Haig