Sarah Britten
Sarah Britten

Are horoscopes harmless nonsense?

Star signs

“You’re in your element, especially as it seems things are coming together in your career,” intones the Your Stars section in my mother’s copy of You magazine. I like that. That makes sense, especially as I have just made some major changes at work. Pity then that this is for Capricorn, so doesn’t apply to me. No, I get “Get your accounts up to date as this will be very satisfying”. Trust the sweet-looking tannie who writes the You and Huisgenoot horoscope to come up with this stuff. “You function much better in an ordered environment,” she reminds me, metaphorical finger wagging. Ja, ja.

A few weeks back, a friend — an engineer, so someone with zero patience with superstitious chick nonsense — performed a test on me. He took the horoscope, read out some of the advice, and challenged me to predict which pieces of it might apply to me. “You should now be very much on the move with the intention up any number of personal triumphs. A super time for emphasizing the benefits to be derived from collaboration or teamwork. Now that you are truly in the mood to get things done, you can register progress and success in many pursuits.” (ASTROCALL blah blah fishpaste.) Of course, it all sounded the same: generically motivational stuff which could apply to anyone at any time, regardless of what the stars were doing at the time they entered screaming into the world. (Mine turned out to be: “A spell in which thoughts sent out in hope are apt to be highly effective.” This turned out not to be the case.)

I tried this again this weekend, reading over all the entries to see which ones I thought best applied to me. The effect wasn’t the same, of course, because I could see the star signs, but it was entertaining nonetheless.

“You’re determined to deal with your psychological issues.” (Scorpio, but that could so be me.)
“Now you’ve taken that important step in the right direction you’ll find it easier to put in practice the things you’ve learned lately.” (Pisces)
“Place a guard in front of your mouth if you wish to avoid controversy.” (Aries, which is also advised to “be aware of the emotional effect the full moon on the 12th can have on you and your partner”.)
“You’re particularly focused, which means you’re sharper mentally than usual.” (Leo)
“You’re in a serious frame of mind, which means there’s little you can’t accomplish if you apply your mind to it.” (Gemini, which should also “be wary of a romantic link with someone you work with”.)

All so much more inspiring than getting your accounts up to date.

It’s quite remarkable how entrenched horoscopes have become in the media. They’ve spread from Western women’s magazine culture to every corner of the globe, embraced by every culture with as much enthusiasm as BMWs and antibacterial soap. Even the Daily Sun has them, packaged alongside stories of zombies, tokoloshes and haunted chickens. There isn’t a shred of empirical evidence to back up any of it, but that doesn’t stop people from poring over them, scratching through the sentences for clues as to whether they should get out of bed on a particular day.

I wonder whether the bit about being in your element applies to all Capricorns. Does everyone born between December 22 and January 19 thrive on taking responsibility, and should they therefore “step forward so you can be noticed and entrusted with important tasks”? If, alternatively, you’ve been weighing up all the options, will the answer become clear on the 7th for everyone?

“For the moment it’s vitally important you know exactly where you stand financially,” Petra advises the Virgos like me. She’s absolutely right: this is good, sensible stuff, and it probably didn’t need to come from looking at a chart. As for the Capricorns, “Stick to your guns,” she tells them, “and do what you feel is right”.

Which is something we should probably all be doing anyway.

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