The growth of astrology and similar occult practices in recent years reflects an increasing desire among young Americans to connect with something spiritual, something outside the technology-driven secular climate of modern society. But the commodification of this phenomenon by large companies flies in the face of this desire.
Contemporary American society is becoming increasingly secular. There has never been a time in the history of the nation when fewer people identify with a particular religion or attend weekly religious services. On the other hand, the average American spends 24 hours a week online and works more hours than ever before, experiencing record levels of stress. Social critics have warned of a mental health epidemic brought on by increasing dependence on technology. In this cultural landscape dominated by artificial stimuli and second-hand technological experience; the divine has never seemed so distant. Yet a predilection for the supernatural has been a part of civilization since antiquity. Even as membership in organized religion has plummeted, many still maintain spiritual identities. The past five years have seen an 8% increase in self-identification as spiritual, not religious, among Americans.
In recent years, one avenue by which Americans are connecting with their mystical yearning has been the medium of astrology: America is experiencing an astrological renaissance. A 2012 study showed that belief in astrology is at its highest point since 1983. Major publications like The Atlantic and The New York Times have run pieces highlighting the trend of Millennials involved in the practice. The Astrology app Co-Star is one of the top lifestyle apps in the App Store. On Twitter, the accounts @poetastrologers, @astrobebs, and @milkstrology have 399, 78.2, and 133 thousand followers, respectively.
The search for answers in the constellations is not inherently bad. People who follow astrology report lower levels of stress regarding their future than those who don’t. Astrology provides a set of rules for a seemingly arbitrary and capricious universe. It tells its followers that there is an underlying logic to the events of their lives . It allows them to feel that their lives have meaning beyond their own comprehension.
Yet, modern American capitalism—which has created the world from which people are turning to astrology for escape— is ironically, but unsurprisingly, exploiting this trend. Urban Outfitters sells a plethora of astrological and witchcraft-related products. A few examples include a book entitled “The Mixology of Astrology: Cosmic Cocktail Recipes for Every Sign”, a beginners spell book entitled “Practical Magic: A Beginner’s Guide to Crystals, Horoscopes, Psychics & Spells”, glow-in-the-dark zodiac tapestries, and zodiac throw pillows. Tiffany and Co. sells a 250 dollar astrological sign charm. Madewell sells zodiac necklaces, tarot cards, and smudge sticks. Big corporations are using people’s desire to connect with the mystical as a way to cash in.
The commodification of astrology and similar practices is particularly insidious as it runs completely counter to the goals of those who seek out these practices. When people engage in these mystical traditions, they are trying to indulge in something beyond a hyper-capitalist and consumer-driven existence. By exploiting this desire, large companies perpetuate the environment people want to escape.
Astrology and similar traditions are growing in popularity because people still yearn for spiritual experiences in our increasingly capitalist and secular society. These people searching for an authentic experience should be able to do so without this desire being utilized to make corporations richer and richer.