Charm Torres, an astrologer in Toronto, Canada, has seen a surge of interest in her services since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. While she’s had to put in-person consultations on hold, she’s held virtual sessions with hundreds of clients – mostly from North America, though some from as far as her native Philippines, many of them queer millennials like herself.
Some have lost loved ones to the virus. Some are searching for a new career after losing restaurant or entertainment jobs. Others are thriving with so much time at home. What they share is a desire for support, connection and self-knowledge. When the pandemic brought many parts of life to a screeching halt last year, explains Torres, “people were forced to really sit down with themselves and reflect on what their life was about and where their head was”.
Across the world, interest in Western astrology was already experiencing something of a renaissance in the years leading up to the pandemic, its soaring cachet among young people fuelled by Instagram meme accounts, venture capital-backed astrology apps like Co-Star and Sanctuary, and the destabilising years of the Trump presidency and Brexit. But 2020 seems to have stoked the fire.
Canadian astrologer Charm Torres believes “astrology has a way of getting us to be more connected to life and something bigger than us" (Credit: Charm Torres)
According to Google Trends, searches for “birth chart” and “astrology” both hit five-year peaks in 2020, and many professional astrologers report that business took off under lockdown. TikTok, the year’s fastest-growing app in terms of monthly active users, introduced a generation of newcomers to the language of the Zodiac, and made internet celebrities of its most successful astrological accounts. A new vanguard of astrologers – younger and more diverse than the industry has known before – emerged on social media.
Perhaps it’s no wonder that so many people who weren’t interested in astrology before are turning to the stars for guidance. For much of the world, the past year has been one of few earthly comforts – hugs have been scarce, jobs have been lost and every day brings news of more human suffering. Torres believes “astrology has a way of getting us to be more connected to life and something bigger than us", at a time when “we feel really disconnected from everyone and everything”.
But while this sense of disconnection may be behind the current wave of astrological truth-seeking, other factors – technological innovation, the changing beliefs of millennials and Gen Z – laid the groundwork well before the pandemic began.
Neither science nor religion
A 2019 IBISWorld report estimated the size of the US “psychic services” industry (a category that also includes services like fortune telling and tarot reading) at $2.2bn (£1.46bn). But the uptick in interest this past year means that figure is almost certainly on the rise.
People are so desperate to find meaning and patterns and a way out of this – to know that we're not stuck in this moment – Caroline Goldstein
For followers of astrology, its move toward the mainstream during a period of crisis makes perfect sense.
“I think that people are so desperate to find meaning and patterns and a way out of this – to know that we're not stuck in this moment,” says Caroline Goldstein, 28, a writer in New York City. “And astrology inherently follows planetary cycles, so you look at the astrology, and you can see that similar patterns have happened in the past. This is always a unique moment, but there's always a precedent for what's going on. I think that certainly gives me comfort.”
A few years ago, looking to immerse herself more into the field, Goldstein booked a birth-chart reading with Jeff Hinshaw, a favourite local astrologer and podcaster. Birth-chart readings are a popular first choice for the astrology curious, and delve far beyond what you might learn from a newspaper’s daily horoscope, using a map of the sky at the moment of a client’s birth to draw connections to their personality, motivations, purpose and trajectory in life. Rather than tell all Capricorns to look out for business opportunities, or all Geminis to avoid romantic squabbles, this kind of consultation is individual and complex, referencing sun, moon and rising signs (the Zodiac sign that was on the Eastern horizon at the moment of birth) as well as the placement of the inner and outer planets.
Caroline Goldstein's journal of notes from an astrology reading with astrologer and Tarot reader Jeff Hinshaw (Credit: Caroline Goldstein)
Goldstein was drawn to the system of charts and transits several years ago through her broader interest in nonmonotheistic spiritual practices. Like many of her peers, she found astrology to be an intriguing way of looking at the world – one far less dogmatic than organised religion. “It never claims to be the one truth,” she says. “It just provides a language to understand your own truth. It's the language, it's not the book itself.”
According to the Pew Research Center, more than 60% of American millennials believe in New Age spirituality, though the group is less likely than previous generations to believe in God or see religion as an important part of their life.
For some, these alternative systems may be a way to fill the void. “Astrology traditionally has been on the outs with both science and most mainstream religions like Christianity, which puts it in a weird position in society where it's neither wholly scientific nor wholly religious,” says Chris Brennan, a Denver, Colorado-based astrologer and host of The Astrology Podcast. “And sometimes, [for] people that find themselves either looking for a bridge between the two or looking and not fully finding answers in either of those… astrology may appear like a useful middle ground.”
Seeking solace in the stars
“Believing” in astrology, in that case, may be somewhat beside the point; for many fans, it’s a subject of curiosity, a tool for introspection and a means of contextualising their feelings and struggles as part of something larger than themselves. It’s no wonder, then, that many people lean on astrological vernacular in psychological counselling, explaining a partner’s hot-and-cold tendencies as the afflictions of a Gemini moon or a major career change as the inevitable upheaval of their Saturn return.
I'm not that sort of astrologer that likes roses and rainbows and sweet things. I talk about the good, the bad and the ugly – Honey Astro
“If it provides comfort and helps someone make sense of what’s happening, then it’s not necessarily a bad thing,” says Elena Touroni, a London-based consultant psychologist and co-founder of My Online Therapy. While she cautions against depending on any one source of information for guidance, she understands why so many people are turning to astrology and other alternative forms of help alongside traditional counselling.
“Uncertainty is part of the human experience,” she says. “It can be difficult to accept the fact that there are many things in life we simply don’t have control over and, between Covid and lockdown, people are having to contend with even more uncertainty than usual.”
Apps are popping up as interest in astrology surges amid pandemic-fuelled uncertainty (Credit: Co-Star)
London-based astrologer Honey Astro says her studies as a psychology and counselling student help inform her work with clients. She specialises in the 12th house of the unconscious (in astrology, the 12 houses signify different areas of life), which concerns themes like mental health and isolation, and sees her work as helping clients “see that there is the light at the end of the tunnel in that house”.
“When people speak to me, they do say it’s felt like a therapy session because a lot of the subjects that I can pick up on are very intimate and very private,” she says. “I'm not that sort of astrologer that likes roses and rainbows and sweet things. I talk about the good, the bad and the ugly, because it's important for the client to know everything about their chart. And I give them guidance to work with the things that may be a bit ugly.”
Today, she says, “business is booming”. After consultation requests spiked in April, she was doing readings for as many as 80 clients per month – a surge she attributes in part to people being bored in quarantine and coming across her content on social media. Now, though, she is now trying to limit her most popular service – one-hour, £100 birth-chart readings – to 12 per month to free up time to work on videos for her YouTube channel and TikTok. With Jupiter and Saturn in Aquarius – the sign ruling technology and collaboration – for most of 2021, the energy is right, she says. Plus, the channels are both creative outlets and new potential income streams.
An industry in the ascendent
While few astrologers likely get into the field for the money, those with significant followings are increasingly finding new ways to monetise their talents.
While few astrologers likely get into the field for the money, those with significant followings are increasingly finding new ways to monetise their talents
Chani Nicholas, one of the most popular astrologers working today, has parlayed her million-plus monthly readership into best-selling book You Were Born for This (published in January 2020, it sold more than 14,000 copies in its first week), a Netflix deal and a new standalone app, Chani. Her Los Angeles-based company is currently hiring for three director-level positions with annual salaries north of $100,000 (£72,919). And unlike other popular astrology start-ups, her business is entirely self-funded.
While Nicholas has been steadily building her profile for most of the past decade, Maren Altman – recently dubbed “the most serious astrologer on TikTok” by The Cut – went from getting a few dozen views on her YouTube videos to having more than a million TikTok followers in the span of 10 months. After joining TikTok early in the pandemic, her first viral hits were satirical riffs on sun sign stereotypes (“Why I Hate Your Zodiac Sign”), but she made a name for herself in the lead-up to the US presidential election through videos predicting an electoral college “pressure cooker” and Trump’s refusal to concede.
"This is always a unique moment, but there's always a precedent for what's going on. I think that certainly gives me comfort" – Caroline Goldstein (Credit: Caroline Goldstein)
More recently, she’s become a font of information on what the stars foretell for the price of Bitcoin and the movement of the US stock market. Financial astrology is her main passion and what she plans to pursue for her business. Currently, she says, a few thousand members pay for her weekly livestreams, exclusive content and other perks (memberships are tiered at $7.77 to $49.49 per month), while others attend webinars or take courses. Despite TikTok’s reputation as a haven for Gen Z, Altman says her audience is mostly in their 30s, and many have dabbled in astrology previously.
“I've felt really fulfilled seeing that people get into [my content] for self-discovery and then end up staying and learning about finance with me,” she says. “It definitely does seem to deepen as people join the community.”
Whether newcomers will stick around once their day-to-day lives regain some measure of normalcy remains to be seen. As Brennan points out, in the Western world, popular interest in astrology has come in waves – in the mid-2000s, some astrologers were worried that few young people were getting into the field. For now, though, with social-media algorithms serving up memes about Mercury in retrograde, and modern life offering little in the way of spiritual support, astrology’s renaissance seems like it’s here to stay.