While reporting this piece I read a lot of newspaper and magazine articles about astrology, starting around 1830 and moving forward. Halfway to the present day I realized something about the subject, which is that a) the practice of astrology has not changed over the past two centuries and b) as a result, astrology pieces written in 1830 sound exactly like astrology pieces written in 1980.
Partly this is an issue of tone. Articles about astrology tend to fall into three categories: the lightly sardonic, the rapturously credulous, and the contemptuous. A New York Times column published in the 1920s is a good example of the first category:
To X.Y.X. male, born March 2, 1872: Beware of a woman who claims to be your friend, but who is trying to marry you.
To L.U., female, born Oct 14, 1873: People born under your sign are great orators. Your husband will find that out when he comes home late from the club. You will find your greatest success in baking bread.
A few decades later the practice is taken more seriously by news reporters, if only in the sense that it’s perceived as more of a threat. Pieces treat the subject as less an eccentric pastime to indulge than a sign of general benightedness. In 1975, a band of scientists joined to issue a formal rejection of its validity, which no doubt meant as much to astrologists as Richard Dawkins does to Lutherans…
For my part, I feel about astrology the way I feel about Klout scores and juice fasts and journalism school— unconvinced of its utility but unoffended by its existence. My furtive and moody nature makes me a “classic” Scorpio, although I am also a “classic” Aries (prone to headaches) and a “classic” Pisces (enjoy aquatic activities).
I must be a very complicated woman.