The sun rises in Moscow and University of Idaho student Brandi Billing checks her daily horoscope.
She doesn’t feel inclined to leave the comfort of her warm bed, and yet her horoscope reads the opposite, “You’re going to have a great adventure today.”
So Billing, being the adventurous Scorpio she knows herself to be, crawls out from beneath the covers and prepares for a day of astrologically predicted excitement.
“I’ve always been in love with the idea of what my sign is … I think it’s just interesting how much of it actually relates to what I think I am or who I think I am,” Billing said.
In late September, a wave of reports surfaced that NASA found a new constellation with which the sun intersects and therefore a new sign for the zodiac. This “new sign,” Ophiuchus, caused every other sign to shift, leaving many wondering if they’d been living an astrological lie. Billing was quick to reject NASA’s announcement.
“Initially, my reaction was very negative. Basically, ‘I’m not going to take this,’” she said. “I am a Scorpio from the day I was born until the day I die.”
Despite her strong ties to astrology and belief in the associated sun signs, Billing understands that many don’t share her sentiments.
“Who’s to say if it is true or not — I mean, I believe it is, at least to a certain extent,” she said. “I think it’s just like anything else. It’s your opinion, I can’t sway it, but I don’t think your judgment should be affecting me in any way shape or form.”
Billing said she uses astrology as a personal tool.
“I think it’s so interesting to see what your ideal path would be. To just kind of help you identify yourself,” she said. “I think it’s something people can try to explore themselves within, and I think that’s what’s so cool about it.”
Though the personal exploration aspect still excites her, UI student Katrina Alverez said she is better known among her friends as the woman most likely to inquire about someone else’s astrological sign soon after meeting them.
“It’s like a joke that when I ask people their birthday people are like, ‘Oh my gosh, there she goes again,’ just because I like knowing peoples’ signs because I feel like there’s some truth behind it,” Alverez said.
She said she likes to apply her knowledge of the signs when working with others. Alverez can see patterns within people that correspond to their astrological identities — including her skeptic of a boyfriend.
“My boyfriend has been a nay-sayer, and I have convinced him just by pointing things out, and he’ll still say, ‘I don’t think it’s real, but there’s some coincidences,’” she said. “If you just look, you plant the seed, and if people genuinely want to research it they can listen and maybe the seed will be planted.”
Planting that seed might be as simple as knowing peoples’ tendencies to desire a group or label, said UI professor Kenneth Locke. Though Locke has no background in astrology, he specializes in the study of personality and is familiar with how and why people define themselves. He said in his experience, people enjoy feedback from tests or systems that tell them who they are or what they should be like.
“It’s far from, ‘Don’t define me, don’t label me,’” he said. “They’re usually saying ‘Please do.’”
But Locke also said individuality is an undeniable human desire — to a point. He said astrology is reminiscent, on a psychological level, to this idea.
“What people like is, ‘I’m different, but I’m also like some other subgroup of people,’” Locke said. “I think astrological signs are kind of that type of thing, where you’re distinct, but there’s a whole other group of other people — Capricorns — out there.”
Those who cling to their sun sign subgroup made up the bulk of those who denounced NASA’s findings back in September, and astrologer Maria Maggi said this wasn’t the first time scientists attempted to interpret a system they don’t understand.
Though other systems recognize the 13th sign, Maggi said modern western astrology — the version that uses the 12 signs most people are familiar with — is not meant to mirror the constellations.
“You can’t use scientific criteria to judge a symbolic system,” she said.
This symbolic system attracted Maggi’s passion when she was about 18, but she lost sight of her love of astrology when she began her college career studying English. After the birth of her son, Maggi found herself drawn again to the stars. She asked her yoga teacher — who did astrological readings on the side — to teach her more.
“I wanted to see what was making my son tick,” she said. “I couldn’t get enough of it — it really rang true to me.”
Maggi lived in Moscow for about 22 years, but moved to Portland in 2014 to be closer to her son. While in Moscow, she taught in UI’s English department.
During her years as a teacher, poet and astrologer, she said astrology continued to ring true, particularly in what she sees as the cyclical nature of the world. She said though not every aspect of someone’s sign or horoscope might be accurate, astrological readings must be held like a photograph — by viewing things from a certain angle, something will inevitably resonate.
“They might not hit every mark, but every once in a while it’s like ‘Oh gosh,’ and you feel a kinship with that,” Maggi said.
She said it is also important to remember that no one is made up of a single sign — sun signs are commonly known, but people also have moons and myriad of other astrological identifiers, depending on when and where they were born. Sun signs are a reflection of a person’s creative being. When someone doesn’t feel their sun sign completely defines them, Maggi said their moon — which reflects emotional aspects of their being — might be the piece that’s missing.