Courtney Perkins needed a hobby.
It was late February when the 23-year-old found herself in-between jobs and with three weeks to kill. Having recently moved across the country from New York to Los Angeles, she was feeling isolated in her new city. At the time, Perkins mainly kept in touch with her friends by texting them about astrology.
"I was goofing around one day and started making memes and decided to do it on a separate page because I didn't want to clog people's feeds unless they wanted it to be clogged," she told INSIDER. "And it just took off from there."
Now, Perkins runs the popular astrology meme account, notallgeminis. As of November, her account had over 300,000 followers with more than 1,200 posts. Perkins, who jokingly calls herself a meme lord, never expected that what started out as an extension of her finsta would grow as it did, but astrology memes are having a moment right now.
It was around the same time that Jake, who asked to only be identified by his first name, noticed that every time he posted an astrology meme on his personal Instagram account it "got lots of likes." Today, he runs the page jakesastrology, which has over 140,000 followers and more than 600 posts.
And it appears these two are onto something big.
Perkins and Jake are far from alone in their meme making. There are hundreds of astrology-specific Twitter and Instagram accounts, seemingly born to satisfy a growing community of astrology-obsessed followers.
But what's driving the proliferation of these accounts?
At the risk of sounding dramatic, it might just be the world we live in. A 2017 report on the state of stress in America released by American Psychological Association, found that 59% of millennials believe the country is at its lowest point ever, and they cite concerns over health care and mass shootings as significant causes of distress.
At the same time, fewer people are turning toward traditional religious and spiritual systems. According to a 2014 study from Pew Research, 22.8% of adults surveyed described themselves as not religious or affiliated with "nothing in particular" when it comes to religion. According to the group, 56% of adults surveyed said that they don't think it's necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values.
And that might explain why people are seeking affirmation elsewhere. It doesn't really matter if astrology is "real" or if people's conviction that their horoscope definitely applies to them is just a manifestation of the Barnum Effect - a personality-trait specific placebo effect that describes how anyone can be convinced that any set of traits applies to them. Even if it's fake, astrology is a useful distraction.
Viktor Winetrout, who runs the satirical Twitter account Sorrowscopes along with about 25 other people, said his team views the fake horoscopes as a "harmless escape from the never-ending news cycle."
Aries: Find beauty in the little things today. A flower. A babyâ€™s smile. The suffering of your enemies.— Sorrow-scopes (@Sorrowscopes) November 18, 2018
While Sorrowscopes doesn't follow the same structure the Instagram accounts, it does maintain the same biting, dry sense of humor that memes have, generally speaking. "It's not that we're anti-astrology, we're just not trying to play it straight," Winetrout said. "We're using the format to be funny or facetiously bleak."
Whether it's a horoscope in the back of a print magazine or an astrology meme on Instagram, astrology speaks to a need to feel "seen," and understood.
For both Perkins and Jake, making memes isn't about following a trend or fad. Instead, It's about delving into their long-held passion for astrology. Their personal attachment to astrology allows the 20-somethings create, for lack of a better term, relatable content that makes people pause and say, "that's so me."
And it's that intrinsic desire to relate to others or better understand yourself that gets people talking - or tagging their friends in the comments.
Lily Lou, a 20-year-old student at UNC Chapel Hill, said that she mainly turns to astrology when she's stressed. In particular, she said she reads her horoscope for comfort and validation. While she's not particularly interested in memes, when friends send them to her, she only looks at her sign. "It's like when you take a picture in a group and then you automatically look at your face and not anyone else's," Lou said.
She's not the only one looking to astrology for guidance. Astrology offers a path toward external validation and community that many struggle to find in traditional structures, be it religion or politics. In a way, astrology provides its followers with a template for how to organise, categorise, and make sense of a chaotic world.
That's why Jake said he gravitated toward astrology growing up - it gave him a sense of validation that he struggled to find elsewhere.
"I found astrology to be such an empowering belief system because I was able to comfortably 'fit in' as a queer person - there are no rules for being a believer in astrology, whereas I felt excluded and uncomfortable with some of the implied stipulations that come with Christianity," he said.
Jake believes that feeling left out or excluded from traditional belief systems has driven many of his peers toward astrology, too.
"We're all able to find a practice and belief that we fit into perfectly, and we can explore and play with different spiritualities to find out which ones we like or believe in most," Jake said. "I also think that astrology and other 'unconventional' belief systems feel empowering to many people - especially marginalised groups of people."
Perkins agrees that it's a generational thing.
"I think people are looking for answers in any way that they can - especially in the younger age group. The majority of my followers are under 30," she explained. "Most of us have given up on religion, our government has failed us, and this is something that is both a distraction and a way of understanding the people around us in a really laughable way that also feels just spiritual enough."
For folks who have been into astrology for a long time, the sudden ascendance of astrology memes comes as no surprise. Ophira Edut, who has been practising astrology since the '90s and runs Astro Style with her sister Tali under the pen name of The AstroTwins, says she thinks astrology memes are funny and clever interpretations of the signs and their behavioural patterns. And she's not at all surprised that people are turning to astrology for answers. According to Edut, when politics "goes sideways," the demand for astrologers surges.
"People are looking for answers and meaning because the world seems to make no sense right now - especially with the political climate we're in," she told INSIDER. "I think people are like, 'Well, this doesn't make sense from a logical point of view. Maybe there's a bigger spiritual lesson for the world that we're learning? Maybe astrology can explain it.'"
Anna Price, a 25-year-old editor who lives in Los Angeles, California, told us that she first became truly interested in astrology in 2015 when she got her full natal chart read. Today, she turns to social media for regular updates on her horoscope.
"My current interest in astrology is for the purpose of mindfulness and self-reflection," Price said. "I follow a few astrologer accounts on Twitter and have an app on my phone that gives me personalised updates based on my birth chart information and current transits."
One app that people commonly turn to is Co-Star, which provides users with custom birth charts and daily horoscopes. Speaking with INSIDER, Banu Guler, the app's CEO and co-founder, said it's downloaded over 1,000 times a day, and at times even 1,000 times an hour. Guler says it doesn't surprise her that people are turning to astrology in droves because it offers the same mystic and community aspects as a traditional religion might.
Susan Miller, the founder of Astrology Zone, may not make astrology memes, but she approves of them.
"Some people are very good at them. It's accurate and it's funny," she told INSIDER. "And it's a reason to smile. And with current things in the news, I think we need a reason to laugh more."
Yet not everyone in the astrology community has been receptive to the jokes, Edut said. Some astrologers argue that the memes oversimplify astrology or use it to fear monger.
"I see some people who are practising astrologers who are kinda like, 'Well, this is pop astrology, this is not real astrology.' I don't feel that way," Edut said. "I guess if I was to say a critique of some of the memes, it would be like, the typical sort of fear-mongering stuff. Like, 'Oh no! Mercury's in retrograde! Panic!'"
Miller's main gripe with memes - aside from fear-mongering over Mercury in retrograde - is when the jokes become derogatory by making sweeping generalisations about the signs.
"Millenials don't know what each sign means. Some of them do - but most don't," said Miller, who began studying astrology when she was 15. Her site, AstrologyZone, is known for in-depth monthly horoscopes for each sign that span multiple pages.
It's not that meme creators don't know their stuff. Guler said that her team has a made a point of introducing the full complexity of the natal chart into its Co-Star branded memes.
But many meme creators want to make content that serves their audience. "People turn to memes because it is one of the most digestible ways to learn about astrology if you aren't a person that wants to buy the books the way I did," said Perkins, who taught herself astrology via the book "The Only Astrology Book You'll Ever Need."
"You learn the behaviours just by seeing the jokes every day and seeing the way these behaviours come across in these grounded very real human ways," Perkins said.
And Edut doesn't see anything wrong with that.
"The surface-level, Astrology 101 stuff is how people get started. That's how people get interested," Edut said. "Pop culture brings people in - and then if they wanna learn more, they go looking."
UPDATE: December 4, 2018: This post was updated to reflect Co-Star's download rates.
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