Learned #15: Neon

Thoughts on the Return of the Daily Horoscope


Welcome to Learned, a resource for all of us who are trying to read the stars for answers. Any answers. In this issue:

  • What We’re Learning: Sun, Moon, Stars!

  • What We’re Reading: The Creative Tarot

  • Down the Rabbit Hole: Hey, Baby, What’s Your Sign?

Let’s get to it.

Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

What We’re Learning:

This week, we're learning about astrology. No, seriously.

Astrology is back! The Atlantic, The New York Times, New York Magazine, and Slate, all say that the damned millennials are into their star signs, moon signs, rising signs, and dollar signs. Okay, I made up the last part, but only because I'm skeptical about this newest attempt to cash in on fortune telling.

See, there is a lot to unpack when we talk about astrology:

  • Does it actually mean anything? (No, but maybe.)

  • Where does it all come from? (It's kind of unknown.)

  • What is making it popular this time around? (Did I mention the damned millennials?)

What Does It All Mean?

Astrology, by definition, is a method of describing a person's character, likely courses of action, and general way of moving through life, as determined by where, precisely, the heavenly bodies were at the time of that person's birth.

Each person has three key signs - sun, moon, and rising. From More.com:

Simply, your sun sign rules your personality—it’s your soul. Your moon sign rules your emotional core—it’s your heart. Your rising sign rules your outer appearance—it’s your book cover.

Sure. It is, of course, bullshit.

But it's fun bullshit. When I was in college, my roommates and I had a lot of fun charting our star signs. We did not take them as gospel, nor as any kind of scientific truth, but it was a kick to ascribe our ability to all get along as due to our being two Geminis and me, a Leo.

But, back then, and even still, I liked it for the art. Take a look, zodiac and birth sign charts are really pretty in a data-sciency kind of way. Almost like a star map got crossed with a tarot deck.

Fast forward a couple of years to when I started to write fiction and I found that star charts and zodiac signs were an effective way of short-cutting character creation. I would never come out and state a character's sign, so to speak, but I know when they were born and I know the character traits associated with that date, which makes it easy to build a character template.*

But Where Does It Come From?

Ancient fortune telling. Just like Japanese blood-typing, the Chinese yearly zodiac (I'm a rabbit!) or the ENFP test. (Hey-oh, shots fired!) Priests and other religious figures used these beliefs to help keep harmony and arrange marriages and peace treaties and so on. After all, when you can state that two people or tribes are good matches because it was foretold in the stars at the moment of creation, well, now you're speaking with authority!

Wikipedia says:

Western astrology is historically based on Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos (2nd century CE), which in turn was a continuation of Hellenistic and ultimately Babylonian traditions.

So, uh, ancient fortune telling. I think.

Why Has It become Popular Again?

This is where we come back to the sources from the beginning of the article. The Atlantic puts it down to stress:

Millennials and Gen Xers have been significantly more stressed than older generations since 2012…If stress makes astrology look shinier, it’s not surprising that more seem to be drawn to it now.

The New York Times’ Amanda Hess, however, attributes astrology’s return to its inherent ability to be tailored to match whatever content it is you’re trying to market, be it self-help or weed. Hess further says that many of the people creating this content acknowledge that it is not scientific but that it plays with archetypes, thereby giving readers a way to quickly group and categorize the other people in their lives.

Finally, New York Magazine’s Dayna Evans reminds us that this is nothing new. Astrology has always been here and will always be here, the only new thing is that now we’re putting it on Instagram and Twitter and maybe being a bit tongue-in-cheek with it all. At the same time, people are taking it at least semi-seriously as a way of interacting with the world; rather than future-looking horoscopes, modern astrology tends to be about how to read other people or deal with new situations. Kind of a cheat-sheet for “how to adult” questions.

I suspect it is a combination of all three. Astrology is attractive because it has the answers. Life is increasingly weird and wired and new information is thrown at us all the time. Making sense of it all takes time and dedication. Some of us start newsletters. Some of us turn to the stars. But, in the words of the Chairman of the Board, “I'm for anything that gets you through the night, be it prayer, tranquilizers or a bottle of Jack Daniel's.”

So, uh, what's your sign?

* For any writers out there - this is still an effective tool, but it can't be the end of the character's development. Once you've got the basic traits down, add in a few key moments from their lives and how that affected them plus their emotional attachments and heartbreaks. Then feed that into your zodiac and see what changes or gets pushed either forward or backward. Now you've got a character.

What We’re Reading:

The Creative Tarot

by Jessa Crispin

I’ve never been into tarot cards. Similar to zodiac charts, I really like them as a method of artistic expression and design, but they don’t do much for me as a tool for living my life.

Steal Like An Artist, Oblique Strategies, and The Artist’s Way, on the other hand, are tools I really like and use everyday. So, given that The Creative Tarot takes its inspiration from these books and merely uses tarot as a method of organizing its ideas, I’m willing to give it a chance and to see if this book can be a useful method of spurring my own creativity.


joeldavidneff.net | joeldavidneff at gmail | @smileytoad | @joeldneff | coffee

Down the Rabbit Hole:

Random Fact:

The Chinese and Vietnamese zodiac calendars are nearly identical save for the replacement of the rabbit with the cat.

Bonus: More than you ever wanted to know about the Chinese Zodiac.


Although obviously inspired by Martin Creed’s 1999 piece, Work No. 203, I have no idea where this version comes from; I found it on Pinterest.

That’s it. Stay strong, stay healthy. Learn something.