Magazine Feature

A Lost Leo

What do I think I know?

It’s the first Saturday of the new year. And you’re probably thinking, well hell yeah, cheers to the first weekend of the new year! But, my horoscope told me something bad was going to happen to me today. I could die in the name of astrology.

Would I call myself an avid horoscope reader or an astrological frequent flyer, per say? Not in the slightest. I’m not the type to wake up with a cup of coffee and start my day reading my daily horoscope. I remember discovering I was a Leo when I was thirteen and reading my first ever horoscope, thinking, Who is this lion individual trying to tell me I’m going to meet the love of my life today? I’m thirteen for god’s sake. This is how most of my horoscope reading plays out. And by horoscope reading, I mean when I’m scrolling through Facebook and my Aunt Sue reposts her monthly horoscope. Then me, probably looking for some sort of distraction and thus not being able to fight that natural hint of curiosity, taps on the link. Only to find some medieval-looking font, claiming I’ll say yes when I’m proposed to this month. Sure.

But why is it, though, that on this first Saturday of the new year, I’m on high alert? I initially laugh at’s claim that something bad will happen to me on this very day. But it gets caught in some back corner of my mind and decides to hang out there for the day. I hesitate crossing the street to the gym, frantically turning my head this way and that, my eyes searching for some speeding car to come hurtling at me. Later on, when I’m eating lunch with a friend, I brace myself for the food poisoning I’m inevitably going to get from my kale caesar salad. I rest my head for bed the night, thinking that I made it through the whole day. Then in rushes Leo the Lion, reminding me I could have some horrible nightmare and not wake up.

This is why I’m here to ask why. Why is it that we’re still drawn to our horoscopes even if we don’t necessarily believe in them? What is this power they have to make our minds succumb to their words? Or most importantly, why did I just republish an image titled “She is, Leo” on VSCO?

Where did this all start?

Perhaps we can begin with where the heck this all started. According to the American Federation of Astrologers, the Babylonians take credit for the very beginnings of astrology. Is it just me or does everything seem to begin with the ancient Babylonians? That’s besides the point here. Astrology was used for all sorts of crazy things back in the day, like forecasting natural disasters and even wars.

The Babylonians were also believed to have adopted the zodiac, in which they assigned animal names to the twelve constellations responsible for the evolution of the seasons. This gives us the four groups, or ‘houses’ of the zodiac: Fire, Water, Air, and Earth. This all sounds like Harry Potter to me, but let’s keep going. Each sign depends on the Earth’s rotation around the sun and is paired with a planet. Leo’s driving planet is the sun, which isn’t even a planet. It is the star that rules the solar system. And I’ll say it, that makes me feel kinda cool.

So where do horoscopes come into play in all this? The horoscope is the actual map of the zodiac circle itself. The Earth is at the center of the map, with sun at the top and the planets and moons circling around like a clock, though a clock that ticks to the positioning of the sun. The construction of such a map is left up to only the most expert of astrologers. Imagine being so cool that you’re job is to construct zodiac maps. Once the map is properly charted, it reveals the various personality traits and trends we find ourselves reading about on Facebook.

Now, are these astrological phenomena real, or are they merely fiction? Such is up to the individual, claims the American Federation of Astrologers. Damn, was really hoping for the Astrologers to give us the direct answer. But if you think about it, it really does come down to the individual. Some guide their lives by their horoscope. Others, like myself, do not. This brings me to wonder about the human brain and where it comes into play.

How does the human brain perceive them?

Now that we know where they came from, let’s get #sciency. Dawson College in Montreal conducted a series of studies published in The Journal of Psychology, in which 366 students were evaluated based on varying individual horoscope reading habits and the reliability of horoscope forecasts based on personality descriptions. The study also delves into the human acceptance of such vague and generalized personality descriptions that horoscopes provide. Brace yourselves, for the why is about to be addressed.

This tendency of humans to accept that what horoscopes say is true can be referred to as the Barnum Effect. The Journal of Psychology explains this phenomena as the tendency to accept vague and generalized personality descriptions containing statements with high occurrence rates in the population. We also tend to accept descriptions that appear to be individualized towards ourselves, or ones that we favor. This is a hard thing to measure, though, as on the flip side is the idea that horoscope forecasts are actually accurate.

So, how reliable are they? Not surprising to me, results of the Dawson study show that daily and monthly horoscope forecasts aren’t all that reliable. This is for a variety of reasons, one of these being the varying focuses and theories of the astrologers who create the forecasts. On the other hand, personality descriptions based on zodiac sign have been proven to be somewhat reliable, which can best be explained by familiarity effects and the Barnum Effect. And going back to the “She is, Leo” image, I would say I do have a “great generosity of spirit and the determination to succeed.” You got me there, ‘ole Leo.

Who Reads Horoscopes?

When I think of the type of person who reads their daily horoscope, I think of a woman draped in a colorful knit shawl, wearing dangly earrings whilst surrounded by candles and tarot cards. But in reality, it can come down to something as simple as gender. In the same study conducted at Dawson College, results revealed that us ladies read their horoscopes more frequently, find more use in personality descriptions, and find more accuracy in the personality descriptions of our signs than guys do. Which I guess makes relative sense, as I can’t imagine there being a horoscope feature in an article of GQ. Not to mention, I don’t even know my boyfriend’s sign. Let’s just hope he’s not a Taurus or a Scorpio.

Age demographic also plays a role in horoscope reading. An article from The Atlantic explores this ‘New Age of Astrology,’ specifically in its popularity amongst the younger Millennial demographic. Author of the article, Julie Beck, claims horoscopes are practically perfect for the new internet age. One can find their monthly forecast with the tap of a finger and can scroll for however long they so please. Sounds a lot like myself on Instagram. Another thing to note is that people turn to horoscopes in times of stress and uncertainty, even insecurity. Since the year 2014, Millennials have been proven to be the most stressed generation, the American Psychological Association reveals. I got a C on an exam and suddenly my future is crumbling. Let me check my horoscope for reassurance and a guarantee that I’ll still graduate!

Does Anyone Else Wonder?

Now I’m sitting here, typing this with ten tabs of astrology-related articles and studies open, wondering, am I the only one who thinks about this shit? Or rather, do people in my own life read horoscopes and believe in their truth? So, I decided to create a survey among my housemates. I actually love making surveys, so this was quite an exciting snow day activity. Might I add that I decided to title said survey ‘Hey baby, what’s your sign?”, after the infamous and hopefully now extinct pick-up line. Keep in mind, I live in a sorority house with fifteen other girls, so the majority of responses are from females. Though, I did send it out to some other friends, males included, to get more of a variety of responses. I posed questions like, ‘do you read your horoscope regularly,’ and ‘do you believe in horoscopes.’ And based on the knowledge I gained in my research, I got almost the exact results I expected.

As you can see in the lovely pie charts above, only 12.5% of respondents said they read their horoscope regularly, which is what I expected. The findings from the Dawson College study about how people find personality descriptions of their signs to be more accurate than daily and monthly forecasts especially shone through, with 25% saying yes to personality descriptions’ accuracy and no one saying yes for forecasts. The millenials have spoken! And the part about me wondering if any one else also wonders? 87.5% said they too wonder, so how’s that for reassurance!

What do I Know Now?

Well, here we are. We just took a journey through astrology, starting with the good old Babylonians and ending with the thoughts of a handful of sorority girls. Did something bad ever really happen to me on that first Saturday of the new year? Thankfully, and not surprisingly, no. But I was still convinced. And that’s where horoscopes get us. We, as a younger generation in particular, need guidance. We want someone, whether it be a lion or a ram, to tell us what’s going to happen in our lives, to reassure us of the personality traits we associate ourselves with. This is the why people!

Now you’re probably wondering, does having a better understanding of why we’re drawn to horoscopes make me believe in their truth? Not entirely. I can’t say that now I’m going to start each day reading my horoscope. They’re just not for me. But do I still have that occasional nagging curiosity? Perhaps when my life needs a little more guidance? Absolutely. I think we all do. All of the signs can be lost from time to time, but we need only to give a little more thought to be found.

Leo is also known as the fire sign. Sometimes all you need is a little spark.