Social media is a modern-day means for connection and news distribution, and also a shop front for business. Its saturation in our lives since 2004 has changed social etiquette, impacted mental health, and significantly altered the course of politics – and the workforce – for better and worse. For astrologers, it has extended collaborative interaction and opened up previously unavailable online learning techniques, while transforming the astrologer’s role from spiritual counsellor/advisor to one that considers the potential and impact of celebrity status too.
With over 100 platforms to choose from, astrology is now massively exposed. For the public, the increase in accessibility to astrological principles has transformed the user experience from one of passively reading a horoscope to now feeling some ownership of astro-logic, and perhaps using catchphrases like “Mercury retrograde” to justify anything going wrong. While it might sound innocuous, it is quite a leap. Today, #astrology hosts over 12 million posts on Instagram alone.
These rapid changes pose questions about whether social media is changing astrology and how it is being practised and perceived in modern society. This may not be the first corner astrology has turned in history, but it is a significant shift, as a largely esoteric tradition now becomes explicitly disclosed through modern media for the first time.
It was while researching the astrological signatures of the Depp v. Heard defamation trial earlier this year that the propaganda potential of social media became worryingly evident to me, as I witnessed it being so obviously used as a tool of influence on public perception. When Deborah Houlding then invited me to join her in a live discussion about social media with the Skyscript Patreon subscribers, I was concerned it might end up feeling like herding cats, with so many directions the conversation could take. I decided to create a small survey to test the waters of our community and establish a focus for the discussion. The survey was open for a few days only (October 4th-12th, 2022).
An almost overwhelming 212 participant astrologers completed the 10-question survey, which, somewhat ironically, demonstrates the power of social media, as it was used to gather information about social media use and its impact on members of the astrological community.
While astrology is weaved into every fleeting moment, and experience cannot be downloaded in an app, it is still scarcely present in tertiary-level education. Astrologers are, however, clearly present in tertiary institutions, with 66% of participants graduated at an Under or Post Graduate level – the majority aged 40-49. Today, social media has become an avenue of education for many young people who are impacted by escalating tuition fees and high-interest rates. With everyone converging in one ‘online town square’ it is expected that there will be clashes in class as a result of education disparity. With the rate that technology is changing, and social inequity increasing, it will be interesting to see what changes in these demographics over the next 5-10-20 years.
The advent of technology poses questions about the necessity of a teacher, especially with traditional texts becoming available digitally, and transmission conducted through the use of modern media. With 26% of participants in teaching or mentorship roles, results indicate that teaching astrology is a viable career option today and ease of access to astrological material actually stimulates the urge to learn. Simultaneously, a high percentage of participants consider themselves ‘students’ of astrology (something that can run parallel to one’s practice indefinitely!).
Within the current shape of social media, being a content creator, or influencer, is becoming an increasingly enticing addition to the astrologer’s tool kit. Whichever platform is being used, some level of content creation seems to be required across the visual, text, video, or sound spectrums. Posts generally entail some level of education, be it announcing the next Full Moon or explaining a technique.
When asked to describe one’s astrology practice, the lowest numbers aligned with affiliations to accredited organisations and conferences, illustrating how powerful social media has become in harnessing personal power and autonomy. Where it was once necessary to be affiliated with an organisation to secure a speaking position at a conference, social media has created platforms for individuals to host their own version of conferences and educational material. Invitation to speak at a conference once suggested a level of trust from the astrological community; now, social media has changed who has sway and influence over who speaks and who is silenced, while popularity, or follower count, dictates what is and is not a currently popular technique or practice.
When Facebook launched in 2004, 26% of participants (predominantly over the age of 50) were already practising astrology. The same number of participants (predominantly under the age of 50) began practising astrology between 2016 and 2022. The digital town square amalgamates people from different backgrounds, ages, and levels of astrological understanding. A large proportion of astrologers practising long before these platforms existed are now meeting online with a new generation which has information available at lightning speed. Social media acts as an intersection where innumerable differences merge – and sometimes collide.
Twitter’s launch in 2006 was followed by that of Instagram in 2010. Results show mild trend increases as these platforms expanded, but it was not until Facebook bought Instagram in 2012 that astrology’s popularity took a sharp upturn (the period also coincides with YouTube introducing live streaming, YouTube analytics, and a merge with Google video). TikTok’s release in 2016 correlates with the greatest surge in practising astrologers however, attracting more than double the quantity of any other platform release. This total can be viewed as a cumulative amount of all social media platforms working together, as well as the pandemic forcing many people to find alternate means of occupation.
The concept of TikTok fits awkwardly into astrology’s conventional expectation of years of study and practice. Allowing only short video footage, with an average lifespan of 25 seconds, it highlights the juxtaposition of depth learning reduced to quick sound bites. The ability to change a tyre does not a mechanic make, yet social media’s increasing impact on discourse and thought means good marketing and a curated presentation can garner a large following and bolster the influence of those with more pizzazz than experience. As rates of plagiarism continue to rise in our digital age, both astrologers and the public will have to better their skills at identifying if the glamour of the shop front truly reflects the quality of the products within.
A third of respondents indicate daily use of social media, though there are multiple ways this data can be interpreted – is this how often people post? Or how often they log in and scroll? (For those running a business account, simply ‘liking’ or commenting on someone else’s post is considered advertising.) For those not engaging on a daily basis, most (18%) engage with social media about once a week; but 15% of participants actively take regular breaks, suggesting that for many of us social media engagement is not sustainable and calls for self-regulation.
Although some responses depict social media as anti-social, its intention of ‘connecting us’ appears to be working. Having a ‘widened social circle’ ranks highest in the experience of social media use, followed by ‘business has improved’ – underlining the career viability of astrology relying on social media as a marketing tool. The 27% of participants indicating ‘none of the above’ accounts for the many people who rarely engage. It seems that with devices attached to the end of our arms (designed for us to be addicted) correlation can be drawn between the high number of daily users and a quarter of participants reporting burnout. Remember that technology has also changed the nature of our workday: there is no longer a 9-5 norm; self-employment is far more common; and tech use has infiltrated every aspect of life, resulting in us checking emails at 11 pm and normalising unpaid labour.
Worryingly, with the popularity of astrology on the rise, the internet has inadequate safety barriers for protecting one’s work or identity. Plagiarism, fraud and scammer accounts are presented in equal numbers, experienced by 20% of participants each. Through this deception, many are discovering that social media platforms are devised to make you believe you own the space (your wall, your profile etc.); it is not until there is a problem that the faceless nature of these corporations is revealed.
The message reinforced by social media is that going viral, or being famous, is the goal, while the thing most feared is being cancelled. Both have an element of exposure, but for opposing reasons: one bolstering the ego, the other underlined with shame. The results suggest that neither outcomes are likely. Going viral and being cancelled show up with equal numbers, ranking lowest of all possibilities with social media use. Chasing the dangled viral carrot is like a lottery gamble with a 2% chance of winning against an ever-changing algorithm. To actually achieve celebrity status as an astrologer requires intentional curation with upfront cash for paid publicity. Subsequently, the quality of astrology has no benchmark balance against the number of clicks, likes and views.
While there can be a crossover between ‘community members’ and ‘colleagues’, how we interact with each group does differ (community suggests engagement at a social-survival level, while the professional nature of colleague calls for different social etiquette). Before technology defined how and with whom we connect, ‘community’ was defined by different needs: as hunter-gatherers, our dependence on each other was based on survival; as we evolved, the community benefited from resource sharing, which birthed wealth monopoly, and class. More recently, the overpopulation of cities created sub-communities within the larger group, and people gathered together based on common location, class and specialisation in certain fields. Today’s social media encourages us to connect based on likeness, sameness and common ground. From this, it is easier to draw lines to define who does and doesn’t belong. What community is, and who occupies that space, is currently under meaningful change.
Equal numbers of survey participants said they viewed other astrologers as community members and colleagues, while 15% said they did not view other astrologers as either community members or colleagues. Combining this with the results above, indicating a decline in conference and accredited organisation participation, social media may be changing more than how we learn and practice, seeping also into how we co-operative and intermingle with each other
Working professionally in any field today calls for some sort of digital touchstone where you can be found. Given the popularity of social media and the fact it is ‘free’, I was curious to see if the use of personal websites had been affected, with social media replacing that need: 42% of participants do not offer a website; 57% do. With an average of 16% not using social media at all, that’s a significant number of astrologers without a website. In contrasting the pros, the main difference between a website and a social media platform is that websites allow autonomy, whereas social media offers exposure and reach.
The issue of social media being free obviously affects its popularity. In this context, free means not having to pay to use the platform. As our understanding of social media develops, it becomes increasingly clear that when the product is free, you are the product; therefore, profit is being made from your usage. Conflicting comments show that, on the one hand, social media is compromising the quality of astrological content, creating an expectation of a free service, while others note that the influx has made astrological education costly and inaccessible. Currently, a diploma from NCGR, for example, is $4885 for members / $5325 for non-members, while the average cost of one-off online webinars ranges between $15-$25.
Ultimately, astrologers are split down the middle concerning social media, with 50% preferring to continue use and 50% preferring to opt-out. Perhaps answering that question is as complex as answering ‘would you prefer to live without electricity?’ Similarly, there was no option to opt-out when electricity was introduced across the planet, and we have subsequently lost connection with the natural world. Social media has become such a significant tool of ‘connection’, that the art of making in-person connections might be suffering in the same way.
The main reasons given for preferring not to use social media are that it is time-consuming and there is a lack of control, i.e., it’s governed by big tech, algorithms, and lacks privacy, etc., whereas the strongest reason for ongoing use is that it is beneficial in its reach, and free. Interestingly, the only overlap was its necessity as a marketing tool. Participants on both sides saw this as a positive and negative, or a reason to continue using, and a reason to discontinue use.
The nature of tech is front facing (we see the product but not the inner, behind-the-scenes workings); its long-term impact is hard to comprehend, but we know enough to realise its effects are major. Since astrologers no longer need brick-and-mortar organisation affiliation to gain professional leverage, we are freely offering social media corporations the agency to dictate how our community, practice and tradition are shaped. When answers are not forthcoming, it is important to keep probing questions.
Because anyone can now call themselves an astrologer, there is potential for those who advance the tradition with a positive impact to be lost in the wash. Yet social media also has a wonderful way of levelling the playing field and creating opportunity. The complex intersection we stand in now poses important questions about how to control tech’s influence on our tradition. While there are definite gains, sadly, there will be things that we won’t know we have lost until they are gone. Like Mars currently rising after Sunset, the visual component is beautiful and breathtaking, but it also portends maleficence in plain sight.