Astral projections: the influence of racism and sexism on astrology

By Zainab Athumani

Since the 90s, astrology has been tied to the ‘valley girl’ stereotype – the naive, frivolous bimbo who prioritises aesthetics over anything of real substance. This misogynistic notion plays into a patriarchal trend of underestimating teenage girls and their interests, so that as a topic most typically discussed by young women, astrology is often viewed as baseless. It’s understandable that the discipline would become so intertwined with ‘valley girl’ aesthetics, as teenage girls and astrology are natural companions; not only do girls have a reputation for occultist gatherings in dorm rooms and ouija board outings at parties, but astrology allows for a deep exploration of the self that is often connected with the divine feminine. Most people first interact with the world of astrology through the horoscope columns in glossy women’s magazines, in which the position of Mars can dictate that someone is at risk of a bad haircut – many women today, even professional astrologers, remember these columns vividly from childhood. However, the use of astrology without understanding its history discredits its true personal power and perpetuates the misogyny and racism that has restricted the Western practice of the discipline for decades.

A crucial element of the move away from the ‘valley girl’ stereotype is a conscious effort to decolonise astrology. This is something that the astrology community is talking about more and more, but the decolonisation of astrology is more than a jump onto a trend. The move to reconnect astrological practices with their roots returns astrology to a place of deep spiritual power in people’s lives. The cultures who pioneered the discipline did so with a reverence that has rarely been afforded to it in the past few decades. Astrology didn’t make its way to Europe until around the 10th century, having held importance in Ancient Babylonia, Ancient Egypt, and the Islamic world prior to its Westernisation. We often hear about how the Ancient Greeks lived their lives by the stars, but this is only the beginning of the night sky’s cultural significance.

One key way to normalise astrology is to individualise it. Horoscope columns can seem so ridiculous because of their supposition that everyone can be divided into twelve categories and will experience the same fate. Part of the surge in interest in astrology has been the increased understanding of birth charts and various planets. The popularisation of the sun, moon, and ascendant signs has captured people’s interests, with many finding deeper connections with their charts. There is a new and greater awareness of how each planet’s placement joins together to create a unique picture of who someone is, providing knowledge of the self through degrees, aspects, and houses.

Another important consideration is the grounding of astrology in a reality that people can understand. At first, seeing a birth chart can be confusing, and thus, easy to ridicule. However, by explaining that a birth chart, with all of its intersecting lines and circles, is actually just a representation of the sky when you were born, something new-age and foreign becomes scientific and familiar. By putting the power into people’s hands through increased information, what was once vaguely prophesied by Mystic Meg becomes personalised and introspective. Astrology shouldn’t be prescriptive, it should be a mechanism for self-reflection; it can be a powerful tool to assess your personality, your behaviours, and your interactions with other people, and can offer a lot of insight. Reducing it to the delusions of people who believe the stars predict your fate doesn’t capture the totality of what astrology can be for different people, meaning that many miss out on the insight it can offer while others aren’t taken seriously for engaging with it. For many, astrology is an important spiritual practice and deserves to be respected as such.

A crucial part of this process is accessibility. The popular horoscope app Co-Star is viewed by many people, both inside and outside of astrological circles, as the face of astrology’s vapidity. However, Co-Star is actually a huge step forwards in accessibility and education – it is not perfect by any means, but it is a far cry from the horoscope columns of 2000s women’s magazines. Astrology means something different to everyone, so there’s no perfect conception of it on a single app; nevertheless, the increased presence of astrology on social media has provided free, accessible information that in many cases can be transformative and even life-changing. The same goes for TikTok, which has introduced more young people than ever to the practice and its different applications. For example, vedic astrology has seen a huge increase in popularity recently as TikTok users with South Asian heritage are making educational TikToks about the discipline. This level of diversity and personalisation is worlds away from the purple-pink print of whitewashed magazines.

Now there are more people than ever with the power to pick up their phones and speak to their own experience, resulting in thousands of different astrological approaches and applications being spread to millions of people. This diversification of the practice is what will bring it into its new age and help people rediscover the power that has so often been neglected due to the Western world’s gentrified aesthetics. The racism and misogyny which surround astrology stem from elitism within the field and ignorance outside it, and the ‘valley girl’ stereotype discredits astrology’s power as a lens through which deep emotional, psychic, and spiritual understanding can be achieved. Prioritising the personal power of the practice, along with its diversification and the shedding of anachronistic stereotypes and gentrified aesthetics, could bring in a new age of astrology that honours its roots while applying it to the individual needs of people today.

Featured image: taken from artwork created by Elisa Riemer

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