"The day will be fairly eventful, Taurus. There's some likelihood that you will feel suddenly compelled to settle a tedious matter once and for all. You won't rest until it's finished, and you won't be distracted, no matter how you're cajoled to join the others. This problem is the only thing that will matter today.” - horoscope.com, Jan. 26
After the initial pang of irony from today's horoscope had worn off (even the cosmos is admonishing me to write this niggling editor’s note), I experienced a strange sense of relief that must be familiar to the astrologically orthodox: the unburdening that comes with relinquishing a small part of oneself to the dominion of the irrational. Latter-day skeptics may reject horoscopes on principle but, like sugar pills or Emergen-C (sorry, they’re effectively sugar pills), they still fulfill a salutary purpose for those more inclined to believe or who simply derive comfort from ascribing aspects of their lives to forces external.
As a skeptic skeptical of my own skepticism, horoscopes present a challenging case. They purport to be at once ecumenical and personal, prescriptive and predictive, scientific and mystical. More than anything horoscopes seem to be carefully calibrated snippets of verbal vagueness, generalized so that any reader will see at least a glimmer of “truth” in her constellation but unique enough to appear different from the eleven other instances the horoscopist has generated that day. In 1948, psychologist Bertram Forer tested this hypothesis by giving a basic personality test to a group of his students, assuring them that the resulting personality analysis would be unique and reflective of their responses. The subjects rated their results as highly accurate even though each had received identical descriptions composed of clippings from astrology magazine.
As Americans (especially younger ones) become less religious, faith in traditional horoscopes will too go out of vogue, relegated from their semi-respectable footing amidst Omar Sharif’s Bridge column, Dear Abby, and Peanuts re-runs into the realm of Ouija, palm reading, and the street-corner occult. That said, things that have been around as long horoscopes have (and horoscopes have been around a very long time indeed), are too deeply embedded into our collective consciousness to be extinguished by a few punk kids and their garden-variety disbelief. If anything, the generations that sneer at traditional horoscopes are the ones most susceptible to the so-called “Forer Effect,” particularly insidious and acute in its digital form. As much as we may wish to deny it, the perpetual stream of “news,” advertising, and social media we’re so keen to swim in is a horoscope in its own right, ubiquitous and general enough to impart the same veneer of “personalization” and “customizability" across vast digital distances without betraying its underlying delusion.
In this issue of Mouth we explore, among other things, the question of horoscopes and their place in our world. The only other thing I have to say on the matter is thank your lucky stars I’m not a Sagittarius (I’d probably be lying face-down in a ditch somewhere had I heeded today’s advice).
Mac Simonson (Editor-in-Chief)
Sahil Seekond (Publisher)