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The Get-Real Guide To Demystifying Astrology

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Around here at R29 HQ, it's not uncommon to find a few staffers hotly engaged in serious discussion about their weekly horoscopes, the astrology apps they regularly use, and when we should be wary ofmercury in retrograde. But, when it comes down to it, the study of astrology is still a bit mystifying. And rightfully so. From a spectator's view, horoscopes tend to make generalizations about our personalities and predictions for what will happen in the future. But, as we learned, that's hardly the half of it. 

Instead of blindly following the stars — or worse, discounting astrology at all — we went right to the sources who would give it to us straight: Susan Miller, the creator of AstrologyZone; Tali Edut, one half of the AstroTwins; and Annie Ladino, celebrity stylist and astrologer. But, of course, to balance the scales, we also turned to the skeptics and scientists who you won't find checking their horoscopes at the start of the day. They brought their — and often, our — biggest doubts about astrology to light. 

Firstly, to debate the validity of astrology we must know what it really is — a task that's hard to condense, as it takes years and years of study to truly understand, according to our experts. In its simplest form, astrology is "the study of the placement of the planets at the time of your birth, as well as where they are now, and how that impacts and shapes your personality and fate," Edut tells us. And beyond knowing what sign your birthday falls within — i.e.: Leo, Aries, Taurus, etc., which are called the sun signs — "it’s important to know your moon and rising signs. The moon is your inner you, which governs your emotions. The sun sign is how you express yourself. The moon will tell you how you respond and feel." These aspects are all determined on the exact date, time, and place of birth. 

According to Miller, astrology is based on geometry and learning to understand the planets' movement as each of them rule different areas of our lives. "Imagine a party with only eight people [the planets], the sun, and the moon: Just like any party, there may be three people together talking and they may be getting along great, and then there could be two people arguing off to the side, and there could be one roaming around…My job is to decide which conversation you’re going to feel, and not all signs will feel them in the same way because each sign is run by a different planet. For example, Aries is ruled by Mars, and Taurus is ruled by Venus." 

Complicated? Definitely. But while astrology is an intensive study, not everyone is quite impressed with the results. "There is no known force that can cause this kind of influence on the part of the planets as implied by astrology," says Columbia University professor of astronomy Arlin Crotts. "It isn't gravity. The gravitational force of your coffee cup on you is billions of times greater than that of Saturn or Mercury." Furthermore, since astrology's origins can be traced to philosophers such as Plotinus around 200 AD, according to Miller's book Planets And Possibilities, Crotts argues that the science has become outdated. "Astrology is only considered within astronomy in a historical context. Since Newton, scientists have been able to predict with increasing accuracy of what the stars and planets will do, so astrology seems very unimpressive now."

Sharon Hill, researcher and author of "Astrology: More Like Religion Than Science," has another explanation about why astrology seems to work. "The basis of astrology is superstitious ideas involving symbolism, myth, and magical forces, not science." She calls the practice "silly" and likens it to a form a religion, in which an "astrologer can not account for how they think astrology works via the processes and laws of nature" and "you are expected to buy into it on faith, not evidence." Oddly enough, however, while Hill says that skepticism is not welcome in astrology, it was our astrologers who, we found, to have once been the biggest skeptics of all.

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"I never even read my horoscope," Ladino, a Leo and now astrologer, told us. Besides being skeptical that everyone born in July and August could have the same takeaway from one small reading, "I felt like the traits of a Leo were nothing like me," she said. Miller had a similar experience: "No astrologer believes in astrology before they study it. I didn’t." 

So, why do we carve out five (maybe 10) minutes of each day to read these so-called predictions? Perhaps it is because that, at its core, astrology is not divination, as skeptics like Hill suggest. As Miller says, it's an opportunity. 

"The thing about astrology is that I can never tell you the one right answer — 'quit that job' or 'marry that man.' That all has to come from you," says Miller. "I can tell you the pros and cons and the questions you should ask before you make that decision, but it’s ultimately going to be your move." 

In addition, instead of making grand and generalized readings for people born within the same time frame, our astrologers all agreed that there is much more to understanding how the planets may affect us, beyond just our birthday. To have the best personalized connection, we have to look beyond the sun-sign readings and get the specifics. 

"[Astrologers] don’t calculate by approximates: We want 7:01 and not 7 o'clock," says Miller regarding birth time. In knowing your chart — a snapshot of the stars and planets at your specific moment of birth — astrologers are better able to address your characteristics and upcoming opportunities, rather than just assume that all Scorpios will have a bad week at work or that all Leos crave the spotlight. Astrology just doesn't operate that way. Think of it as a color gradient, Edut suggests. "Say Gemini is green, your characteristics will range from a mint to a sage," she says. With a better understanding of this, we, as readers (read: very addicted horoscope readers) are able to have a more useful and realistic takeaway.

While astrology is certainly an old science, being outdated is another story. Science is ever-changing and evolving, as are humans. "There’s a whole spiritual movement happening in our culture," Edut points out. "Astrology is this weird mystical code that helps me understand my spiritual self. It doesn’t make sense on the Earth plane at all, but you have to almost be of two minds to understand it. You have to be able to take off your logic cap and open yourself up to the mystical world." 

The ultimate decision, of course, is yours. And, really, we won't pick a side. Logic and science are certainly important, but on the other hand, we can't seem to tear ourselves away from reading (and taking advice from!) the AstroTwin's weekly scopes or Susan Miller's AstrologyZone Premier app. Keep in mind that the more versed you are, the better, and that being skeptical is a good thing. If you're looking for the best advice possible, don't just rely on one source. Seek out the nitty-gritty details of your birth chart, keep in mind the power of free will, and, as Miller suggests, work with an astrologer "you can communicate with and can keep an open mind with, because none of us believe in it when we started either."

Illustrated by Isabelle Rancier

Click HERE to read more from Refinery29.

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