The Evolution of Astrology and What It Really Means
What is your sign? No I mean what is your rising sign. Oh, a Pisces? Interesting...
Conversations like this are a norm today as astrology has gained a significant following on social media. With the rise in popularity around social media platforms such as TikTok, the information around astrology has become increasingly accessible to the masses. For the South Asian diaspora and numerous other communities of color, astrology is deeply interwoven in the social and spiritual fabric of life. While it is often looked at as a pseudoscience in the Western world, the East has a deep history with using astrology for a plethora of different things.
Astrology, or Jyotish, goes back almost 2000 years finding its roots in the Vedic tradition. Astrology is a key component in adherents understanding their lives and the role that karma plays in their lives and lives to come. Astrology alludes to the idea that every occurrence is written in the stars and planetary placements leading to the direct manifestation of events on Earth. It is theorized that the development of astrology as a philosophical ideology came about as a result Hellenistic influences which spread East. It can also be said that from here, the science of astrology was further developed during the process of pairing these ideals with the Vedas.
Astrology was and continues to play a role in the lives of South Asians irregardless of religious affiliation. Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, and Muslim communities in the region interact with this science in different ways. Jyotish services in India alone make up a large part of life. Individuals of all backgrounds consult with astrologers in order to make business decisions, decide on matrimonial matches, and to deal with issues in their personal lives. The onset of modernism, however, has led to the labeling of astrology as a pseudoscience and impractical. While this practice remains a foundational practice in the Indian subcontinent, as well as the South Asian Diaspora, it is met with much skepticism in the West.
The resurfacing of astrology in the modern era is an interesting phenomenon. The vast majority of individuals refer to their sun sign as a factor in understanding themselves and their place in the world. This is due to the fact that newspapers began incorporating daily sun sign forecasts as a novelty in the West starting in the 1800s. Astrology was widely seen as a pseudoscience as the world began to advance and industrialization took hold. A direct effect of industrialization and the rise of modernism shifted the status of astrology as sacred philosophy to “superstition." In the 20th century, a number of renowned astrologers began to produce written works detailing the discipline, as well as translating texts from great astrologers of the past—many of whom lived during the Islamic golden age—as well as a number of Vedic texts. While this did not change the overall sentiment, it opened the door for Western astrologers to gain a better insight on this sacred science.
In 2018, Pew Research estimated that only 29% of Americans believe in the legitimacy of astrology. While astrology has begun to enter the mainstream again, research tells us that a large chunk of American society perceives it to be a novelty.
Today, the interest and practice of astrology has reemerged on social media strongly. While it is still widely viewed as a novelty, content creators on platforms such as TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram are doing their part to reinvigorate the conversation around astrology and the ways in which it can lead to self-introspection. Astrology-themed content on numerous platforms has been further developed by the hard work of BIPOC practitioners who have made this wealth of information more digestible to the masses, while ensuring that the stigma around this practice is not “just a superstition” but an age-old philosophy.
It would not be a reach to say that the widely held view that astrology is "simply a superstition” is rooted in the idea that "Western modernism" is superior to Eastern philosophies. The demonization of astrology is heavily influenced by the attempt to White-wash the beliefs of non-White groups. Today, the demographics that hold astrology dear to their belief system consist of women, LGBTQI+, Black, Indigenous, and numerous other disenfranchised groups. The denial and mockery of astrology is deeply rooted in the attempt to delegitimize the sentiments of these communities, as well as make them look silly in comparison to more “practical” ideas and beliefs.
The conversation around this age-old tradition should be met with respect. Communities in the South Asian diaspora and beyond hold this tradition in high regard and it should be treated as such. There is no harm in having fun with the concepts that come out of it, but we should all keep in mind that it is a real belief that people practice in order to gain a better understanding of themselves and the world around them. Next time you read your horoscope, be sure to remember that it comes out of a long tradition that has thrived off of the contribution of Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities of color.