For as long as we’ve been human, we’ve looked to the stars for guidance. Their role in our lives serves as a sort of bellwether: At first, when our needs were straightforward, they steered us in a literal sense, guiding us through forests and across oceans; then, when we decided we needed more to live for, they gave us our gods. But we’ve moved beyond these things, and we no longer need our purpose defined by burning balls of gas some trillions of miles away. Instead, we now expect the stars to decipher the greatest mystery of all: our inner selves.
In a way, the recent renaissance of astrology and its sister practices—tarot, witchcraft, the care and keeping of crystals—is the ultimate exercise in millennial narcissism. Who are we to presume that the earth, or the sky, or an illustrated pack of cards, should be preoccupied with revealing ourselves to us? Detractors often grow their critiques from this initial kernel, that it is selfish and impractical to imagine that the universe has designed blueprints with each of us in mind. “Do you really believe, my skeptical friends,” ask, “that astrology and tarot are real?”
My answer is always the same: “Does it matter?”
I am a millennial in crisis. While navigating adulthood, I have struggled both to determine what I want from the world and to define my place in it. Horoscopes and tarot readings are seductive because they promise an answer. But in order to access that answer, psychic tools ask a small but critical price: They require us to think and talk about our feelings. The true magic of divination rests not in its link to the cosmos but in the way it empowers us to open up to ourselves. “I don’t think it really matters if it’s scientifically proven to be real or not. I think what matters is somebody’s relationship to it and it being used as a tool,” says Hanna Ketai, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles. To her, psychic disciplines are valuable because they “help us reflect and expand our awareness and think about things in a different way.”
At their most potent, psychic tools are a prism through which we can see ourselves and the world around us in clearer focus. They offer a scapegoat for and a solution to our problems: I’m impatient with my motions because my moon is in hyperactive Gemini; letting myself talk through them will help me focus on my feelings long enough to make peace with them. Mercury retrograde is a convenient catch-all for malfunctioning tech and relationships alike; it also encourages us to dedicate time and attention to past wounds which we may otherwise prefer to avoid. Like a parent sneaking zucchini into their finicky child’s oatmeal, psychic disciplines trick us into reckoning with ourselves by promising us we won’t have to.
Trying to make sense of our inner selves is confusing and messy; it asks us to reckon head-on with the uncontrollable vagaries of our psyches—the emotional equivalent of looking into the sun. Metaphysical practices trick us into believing that our emotional intricacies can be pinned and labeled like butterflies. With psychic practices, you can “immediately dive in and start playing with things and moving them around and getting them to talk to each other, and it’s really playful,” says Brooklyn, New York-based psychic practitioner Grace Kredell. “Just to even begin to diagnose what your kind of issues are, it’s a great way to work with yourself.”
More than any generation before us, ours has grown up with an acute understanding that being in touch with our inner selves (or whatever) is crucial to our overall well-being. Stigmas against seeking therapy are rapidly eroding, and self-care has grown from a self-indulgent pastime to a rising cultural tide. And it’s easy to understand why. Between the unique stressors faced by the “me generation” and the psychologically trying circumstances of our times, god knows we are desperate for succor. But for many people, therapy—the most obvious recourse—demands too much money, or too much time, or too much bravery. “I’ve been to see therapists, and I’ve had so many sessions, and it’s just like, we’re not even there yet to what it is that I really wanna talk about,” says Kredell. With astrology, on the other hand, “I can just talk about one placement with somebody, and it’s like, bang, we’re there, we’re talking about it.”
Ketai insists that metaphysical tools shouldn’t function as a shortcut. “I definitely don’t see tarot, astrology, or crystals as a substitution, and I wouldn’t recommend them as a substitution to therapy,” she says. “I know that there are barriers to access to care, but there are a lot of ways to get mental health care either for free or sliding-scale or through insurance.” But, to be frank, when I turn to my horoscopes and my tarot deck, I am looking for something that my therapist cannot provide. When I place myself in the hands of metaphysics, I am grounding myself in the earth; I am stitching myself into the sky.
There is little place for us in the scientific rules that govern the phenomena of chance and nature. The rules of astrology, of energy vibrations, of tarot—these allow us to subject our emotions and the vagaries of chance to the same stipulations that steer the wind and sea. But that final step into self-knowledge is ours to take. The night sky, the Death card, the collection of crystals on the windowsill, these are static objects, disorderly and unknowable. Whether or not we allow them to influence our actions—that’s up to us.