Astrology and Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Art by Maggie McConnell, WTF Art Director

If you’ve heard the phrase “mercury in retrograde” in the last few weeks and known what that means without having to ask Siri to update you on millennial sayings, you are not alone. This is a classic example of the significant presence of astrology in pop culture and the way that even those who don’t subscribe to a crystal-bearing and palm-reading life-style know something about the stars’ influence in our daily lives.

While recently considered a current cultural and psychological phenomenon among certain niche communities, astrology did not first go into style in the 21st century; it has been around for eons, dating back to ancient Babylon where the Babylonians developed their own form of horoscopes which later spread to ancient Egypt and Greece. People have looked to the stars for guidance and wisdom throughout human history, but lately this guidance and wisdom looks more like a notification from an astrology app or an article in a gossip magazine.

Astrology has become a prevalent guide in the decision-making process for a growing number of people, to the point that some decide if they will pursue a promotion, or if they will have a good day based on what their rising sign is (among other astrological characteristics). While many turn to the stars to reveal an underlying, mystical agenda for their day, others are hesitant and quizzical about the supposed power of the planetary alignment at their birth, especially because in 2011 a new version of the zodiac was proposed, changing the signs from their original position and inspiring identity crises for some hard-core believers. One cause for hesitation is the self-fulfilling prophecy.

Now, for those who have studied psychology – or are simply familiar with some psychological jargon – a “self-fulfilling prophecy is a thought or expectation that manifests in a person’s life because it has been thought”; in other words, if we think something might happen, we are likely to behave in such a way that will encourage that event to occur. Our feelings about, expectations for, and actions surrounding an event will influence how we perceive it and how it happens, leaving us with a sense that we “knew it wouldn’t go well” or that “they were wrong for me anyway” when really, the mind is a powerful thing, and we can convince ourselves of anything. So what role does self-fulfilling prophecy play in regard to astrology? “If people’s actions are affected by the predictions they are exposed to, those who believe in astrology might be more susceptible to self-fulfilling…prophecies”, indicating that once they hear an astrological prediction for them, they will be more willing to accept some facts over others if they support their prior expectations. This being said, self-fulfilling prophecies can be positive; if someone is told that they will only be successful today, their outlook on the day will provide them the confidence to tackle challenges with more gusto than they might on any other day, increasing the likelihood that they will, in fact, be successful today. 

Unfortunately, while some self-fulfilling prophecies might be positive, others might not. With astrology being preached as a guide to decision-making and to reading other people, we might be tempted to generalize a person based on their behavior and peg them as a certain personality because of their sun sign. Is there a danger in the kinds of assumptions we might have about certain behavior or certain astrological signs that could deter us from pursuing a relationship of any sort with someone? Are we encouraging pre-judgement of people according to their astrological signs? How does this preliminary assumption of who someone is differ from any other prejudiced behavior? What if that person happens to fall into a social, ethnic, gender, or racial group that we are already unfamiliar, and therefore uncertain or ignorant about? Are the prejudices and stereotypes perpetuated by our association of their behavior or personality with astrology? This aggressive social pressure on the pseudoscience discourages its consumers from critically thinking about their decisions and the danger of astrology as a form of cosmological predestination and determinism. To get really analytical, if we’re told that the stars dictate our existence and the turn of events in our lives, that people are “meant to be” and “everything happens for a reason,” why try to change anything?  

All of these questions are only intended to open our minds and make us reconsider what it means to pass judgement on someone even before meeting them. However, there are certainly merits to an appreciation of astrology, and the power of the mind in encouraging positive thoughts and behavior. So keep that astrology app on your phone, and hold that sun sign near and dear, but don’t be alarmed if the stars say that you and your best friend shouldn’t be compatible. That’s up for you to decide.

Elya Kaplan

Staff Writer, What The F Magazine

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