he last time I went to the gynecologist, it was because my tarot reader told me to. During a reading that cost about 15 percent of my monthly rent, he pointed out a baby boy in my cards. “Are you on birth control?” he asked. When I told him I was, he frowned. “Well, you’d better get that checked out.”
Even though my IUD isn’t due to expire for three more years, I made an appointment. The doctor laughed for a full minute when I told her about my psychic reading, then fed me facts about the efficacy of implanted birth control. I said I might swap out my IUD early anyway. “Fine, but you won’t get pregnant if you don’t,” she told me.
In addition to milking my health insurance because mysticism said so, I’ve also canceled dates and adjusted deadlines thanks to notifications from the immensely popular astrology app Co-Star. And I’m not the only one putting palpable stake in the stars.
Sharon, 29, heard from a bar mitzvah palm reader at age 12 that she would meet her partner at age 23. “That declaration hung on for over a decade,” she tells me. NYC-based astrologer Leslie Galbraith has noticed many clients trusting readings over lived experience. One client recently came to Galbraith for guidance: She was in a new relationship and having great sex, but a compatibility chart on Co-Star foretold the opposite. “I reminded her that in actual life, she’s having good sex…and she was worried that an app told her she wasn’t supposed to.”
The impetus behind the astrology trend has been well-documented: increasingly isolated, nonreligious millennials and Gen Xers, who work long hours and can’t even dream of buying property, are turning to the stars for answers. But now that a certain segment of the population is comfortable unironically throwing out phrases like “my dog is such a Gemini,” is it possible we’ve overshot the goal of clarity from the cosmos and landed squarely in confusion?
It’s one thing for an app to tell you to “stay home today,” as a push notification from Co-Star recently advised one friend. It’s another to actually decide to do so — which is why Abby, 30, had to cut herself off from reading daily horoscopes: “I feel like sometimes horoscopes can be restricting and confining. They can make us fearful,” she says. Instead of ditching astrology altogether, she upped her game and found a reader who gives her one big star map once a year.
Like a good therapist, a good astrologer won’t give specific, direct life advice. To protect vulnerable clients, Berlin-based astrologer Randon Rosenbohm has crafted a new-age version of bedside manner for birth chart readings. She starts sessions by comparing her work to that of a meteorologist. “Checking your horoscope is like checking the weather. You still go outside [when it’s going to rain], but you bring an umbrella,” she explains. While delivering information from the chart, she consciously speaks in metaphors to encourage clients to draw their own conclusions. Still, that doesn’t prevent clients from asking for precise guidance. “I once had a client ask me about dropping out of school,” she says. “I had to take a step back and ask myself, am I ready to take on this responsibility?”
Most astrologers are self-taught, which means learning how to deal with vulnerable clients on the job. For guidance, some turn to independent oversight bodies and licensing organizations. Rosenbaum has signed on for an Ethics Awareness course taught by the International Society of Astrological Research (ISAR). The organization has drafted a 7,000-word code of ethics for healers, which borrows from Hippocratic Oath (“above all, never bring harm to a client”) and reminds practitioners to encourage client autonomy. It also advises astrologers to refrain from “needlessly frightening a client with extreme predictions” — which probably means I should call the cosmic police on my tarot reader and his thoughts on birth control.
While the burden of ethicism falls on the individual reader, it’s also up to us to consume information responsibly. Marriage and family therapist Megan Costello says she’s spoken to more than one person who has self-described themselves as addicted to astrology and psychic readings.
Costello, who practices in Los Angeles, has developed warning signs to help clients understand if they’re tipping into an unhealthy relationship with the stars. Notice if astrology has become your primary metric for making decisions, she says. If you feel the need to consult with a horoscope or human multiple times throughout the day, that could be a problem. As much as we all need help deciding whether to go to a party or break up with a partner, Costello warns against expecting an astrologer (or the universe) to tell you exactly how to behave. More practically, it’s time to stop looking to the stars when the habit becomes a financial burden.
I expected, and perhaps hoped, that Costello would advise me to throw out the practice of astrology altogether. Instead, she recognizes the value in having a cosmic healer. “There’s a natural talent to be intuitive that therapists have, but some psychics, tarot readers, astrologers, they also have this gift,” she says. “There are some people in this field who truly are deep intuitive healers, and others who are charlatans. It’s about feeling seen, understood and heard by your healer.”
In 2019, the astro-curious will have to choose a place on the wide spectrum between intuitive healer and blind algorithm. Whether it’s through learning which Shawn Mendes song corresponds to your rising sign or sessions with a trusted reader, astrology should leave you with more insight into yourself — and fewer doubts. In the end, though, I deleted my Co-Star app — and kept the birth control.
Animation by Madeline Montoya.