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The Scarlet & Black

Reaching for the stars: Reflecting on Grinnell’s astrology culture

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By Maxwell Fenton
fentonma@grinnell.edu

Since the invention of the calendar, the stars have been used to explain events spiritual and temporal. A multitude of cultures developed astrological systems that reflected their belief systems. In its earliest incarnations, astrology was used to explain divine events. The appearance of astronomical events  comets and shooting stars to name a few — were purported to be communications from the gods. Through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, astrology became a predictive science, used to read one’s fate rather than speak to the divine. Through the ages, astrology developed into a method of reading personalities. Mass media and the spread of horoscopes in newspapers made the practice yet more popular. Even Ronald Reagan used it while in the White House, relying on astrologer Joan Quigley to set the perfect time for announcements and policy decisions.

Astrology has seen a resurgence of interest among young people in the 21st century, its use by Ronald Reagan aside. But why has astrology taken hold here, and why now? Is there something about astrology particularly alluring to Grinnellians? Are we just doing it for the ironic kitsch factor? Or is there genuine knowledge to be gained from looking to the stars?

Even I have succumbed to the astrology craze.  I downloaded an astrology app on my phone, Co-Star, which provides daily updates of the movement of celestial  bodies in my chart. As of my writing this article, my natal Jupiter is sextile my natal Mars, indicating a period of “boredom allowing for action.” I went so far as to write an astrology column on The S&B backpage last year under the name “Sister Aurora Impulse,” featuring such excellent content as “The Signs as Trashy Reality TV” or my personal favorite, “The Signs as Different Types of Trash.” But for all of the interest if Aries is totally “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” or if Aquarius is really a cool ranch Doritos bag in puddle, the question remains as to why I — and Grinnell College at large — have this interest in the first place.

I must confess that despite my interest in and love of astrology, I am not a true believer. Something about the stars dictating the terms of my life and destiny is a bit too far-fetched and deterministic for my taste. That being said, I enjoy astrology in the same way I enjoy the Enneagram and Myers-Briggs personality tests: they all provide a safe lens to read oneself. Introspection can be a very difficult process, and when trying to make changes to one’s personality or relationship with others, can be very painful on your own. The self can be like the open ocean, hard to navigate without the proper tools.

Like other methods of reading personality, I take astrology to be a tool in the process of knowing. Astrology reduces personality traits and one’s actions to prescribed personalities described by the motion of celestial bodies in the same way a Myers-Briggs or Enneagram type has characteristics based on the pattern of answers to a test. My ethical and philosophical interests are derived from my Sagittarius sun, while my critical perspective comes from my Mars in Virgo. My nature as a human being emanates from the position of the stars and, even if not true, it’s still interesting to think about.

But does this ring true for all Grinnellians? As part of my investigation, I first checked the official Grinnell astrology Facebook group, “pseudoscience Technology Engineering Math,” which is chock full of astrological resources and self-generated memes. Like politics, sex, mental health and humor before it, the new format of astrological discourse is the meme.  Using the power of the image, media as diverse as Spongebob Squarepants to Caravaggio’s “Judith Beheading Holofernes” can be turned into an immediately recognizable portrait of the interaction of signs in one’s astrological chart.

Grinnellians in particular seem to have trouble knowing themselves. Steep workloads and social whirlwinds take up any time for introspection, so astrology seems to fill in the gaps. I asked my dear friend Cait Mohr ‘19, a Virgo, for their perspective on the astrology craze. They said, “[F]irst off, we’re all gay, so jot that down. Secondly, I feel that queer intimacy and dating doesn’t entail the same socially imposed boundaries and moments of intelligibility that straight romance does, so I think we exhibit a certain tendency to grasp towards mother natal chart for safety.” Indeed, astrology at Grinnell has largely been a queer preoccupation. Many threads in the Grinnellian Gays Group and Dining Hall discussions among queer people incorporate astrology as a mode of discourse.

The queer astrologer Chani Nicholas considers astrology “a tool of reflection that doesn’t judge the many aspects of self but only reveals them.” The revelation of the other is as much a part of astrology as the revelation of the self. In the queer context of longing, Cait agrees. “I definitely DON’T think astrology is a replacement for communication, but a lot of us find a small amount of comfort in the intelligibility that a lover’s sign confers onto their behavioral patterns and intimate actions,” they said. In a world still hostile to queer love and joy, astrology provides a way to read another person, a mode of revelation hostile only to judgment.

Ultimately, in an era of crisis, astrology offers a way to analyze oneself, an ancient science of personality. The positions of the stars are fixed unlike the chaos on the planet Earth. Whether at Grinnell or in ancient societies, astrology provides a sense of certainty otherwise unfound. Since humankind first looked to the stars and charted their movements, astrology has been a way to know the formerly unknowable, whether in oneself or in another.

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