What, Exactly, Is Astrology? Let’s Break Down the Basics


Learning about astrology can feel like discovering an iceberg. What you thought was just sun signs and casually checking Co-Star is actually an entire system involving houses, planets, modalities, birth charts, and more. That being said, it’s a good idea to get a grasp of the basics before you start to descend into the deep. For example, what exactly is astrology anyway? And how has it changed over the years? Below, Tali Edut, one half of The AstroTwins, ELLE’s resident astrologers, answers all those introductory questions. If after reading, you’re looking to learn even more, Edut recommends analyzing your own birth chart and in turn, learning about how planets, signs, and houses can all be pieced together.

a black and white illustration of the solar system

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How would you define astrology?

Astrology is where math meets myth. It is the calculation of the planets in their orbit combined with thousands and thousands of years of storytelling and watching patterns. You could also say astrology is kind of the cosmic code to our personalities and also the energies that are happening outside of us in the world.

It’s a system that’s been developing since the Babylonians and then the Egyptians, the Greeks, and then in modern days, too. It was once considered something that people studied at universities, too. So there’s something about it that has lasted through the ages. A number of people are now going back and learning Hellenistic astrology, which was the astrology that existed back in antiquity in Greece. But I’m not a fan of it, because it stops with the planet Saturn, and Saturn is the patriarchy planet. I’m like, come on, Uranus comes after that, the planet of revolution. Then comes Neptune, the planet of dreams and subconscious, and Pluto, which is shadow work. They deserve to be part of this.

I consider myself an evolutionary astrologer. I really do believe that we’re always evolving, and the interpretation of our sun signs and moon signs will evolve as we do through our lives. Like my Scorpio moon might’ve made me jealous and possessive and insecure when I was a teenager, but now I use it to be empathetic and understand people and get compassionate with them.

What is the purpose of astrology? Why do people use it or come to it?

A personal love of astrology is primarily a tool for self-love and self-acceptance. I think when you understand that the birth chart is the cosmic blueprint to the person you are, why you are the way you are, and what potential there is to tap, it’s like the gold mine, the treasure map to who you are. You’re not stuck with, oh, I’m a Capricorn, I must work hard, or I’m a Virgo, I am a neat freak. Not at all. It’s a treasure map to the energies you have to tap into, based on where the stars were when you were born.

You can also use astrology for predictive purposes. Depending on where the planets are at any moment in time, you can look ahead and prepare for those energies that are coming in.

What do you recommend to someone who wants to become an astrologer?

A lot of astrologers, including myself, are self-taught, but there are certification programs. People are learning astrology faster and faster now, because there are so many great tools for it out there. Sometimes things just click into place collectively.

But to actually become a great astrologer, it’s not just about knowing how to regurgitate stuff, and I see that happening a lot, and I did that a lot in my early days as an astrologer. There’s a lot of nuance. I think it’s a lifelong practice of learning, studying human behavior. Notice all the people who are Aquarians in your life. What do you see? Look at all the celebrities who are Aries: Diana Ross, Celine Dion, Jill Scott, Aretha Franklin, all these divas. Why is that?

It’s observing, learning, doing your own personal development work, and then bringing that together with the principles and rules of astrology can make you a great astrologer. Our role as astrologers isn’t to scare people, freak them out. I’ve heard people say, “Oh, an astrologer told me I’d never get married. I’d never get pregnant.” That’s just cruel. The role of astrologers is to support people in self-discovery and empowerment, and, of course, let them know if there’s something they need to look out for. But to do it in a way that’s empowering, it takes practice.

How have you seen reactions to astrology change over the years?

When we started doing it, I would talk to people about their moon sign, and they’d be like, what are you talking about? Before it went wild on the internet and social media, there weren’t a bunch of tools or calculators or apps. But over the last 15 years, astrology became more accessible, because you could do a free chart online.

And then I think Trump coming into office and all the breakdowns from that did wonders for astrology, because people started to go, “Why is this happening?” When something happens in the world that doesn’t make sense, we want to come home to our souls. We want to come home to the one place of security that is self-knowledge.

So people’s interests in trauma, attachment styles, astrology, I think it’s all part of somewhat of a coping mechanism. It’s also a knowing that we all have that truth that resides inside of us. It’s kind of an anchor and a centering. If I can learn my own tendencies by understanding my astrology chart, I can navigate this world even when the world seems to be going bonkers.

Nowadays, when you talk about astrology and what you do, do more people have a basic understanding of what you’re talking about?

Yeah, but I still think there’s a lot of diminishing ways that people think about [astrology]. They try to wrap it up with a pretty bow like, all Geminis are like this or that. I think a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing, too. I’ve heard of people writing other people off, because they didn’t like their sign or saying, “I don’t date Geminis,” and that’s silly. Everybody is different.

Do you see common misconceptions about astrology?

The idea that there’s a fixed way to interpret anything. There are also a lot of people who are learning the rules of astrology, which I think is important, but then they get really, really serious about the rules, and they forget that astrology is meant as a tool for understanding, not interpreting so literally.

That’s what’s so interesting about astrology is it’s at once this very defined mathematical system, and also nowadays, something that’s subject for enlightened interpretation rather than rigid, by-the-books interpretation.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Madison is a senior writer/editor at ELLE.com, covering news, politics, and culture. When she’s not on the internet, you can most likely find her taking a nap or eating banana bread.

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