I was stopped at a fork in the road looking for a sign. Should I turn left and press ahead with my trip to Sydney despite a once-in-a-century flood closing the highway? Or should I veer right to stay put on the New South Wales Mid-North Coast and reschedule my trip for another – drier – time? It seemed as though the heavens were quite literally telling me to do the latter, but that wasn’t the sign I was looking for. So, I consulted my stars for a second opinion.
“You were born, and you are still here,” read the notification on my newly downloaded Co-Star app. I took that to mean, “You only live once: take the trip, buy the shoes, eat the cake.” After six hours of driving through non-stop rain, I pulled up at my Airbnb in Sydney’s Bronte and – as if by magic – the sun came out. Thus began my week-long attempt to embrace astrology. I threw my hands in the air and surrendered my life choices to the universe. At 28, I’d had enough of making decisions for myself. I needed a break, a guiding force, a How To: Life manual. So when the Saturn Return Survival Guide by Lisa Stardust landed on my desk promising to help navigate the cosmic rite of passage that first occurs around the age of 28 (jinx!), I took it as a sign and vowed to follow it to the letter.
According to Stardust, a New York-based astrologer, Saturn return is a phase that happens every 27 to 29 years when Saturn – you guessed it – returns to the sign it was in when you were born. It’s an opportunity to reassess our ambitions, relationships, friendships and role on Earth. It’s also a time of deep reflection, turmoil and self-doubt, and a moment to break down in order to rebuild. “It’s like a celestial bootcamp,” explains Stardust. “Saturn return forces us to make decisions that will change the course of our lives forever. It’s a karmic planet, so if you are on the right path the universe will reward you.”
Who doesn’t want to be rewarded by the universe? Luckily for us all, tapping into the cosmos has never been easier: horoscopes are everywhere right now, astrologers are the new influencers on Instagram and getting your birth chart read is as easy as downloading an app. Everyday there’s a new Buzzfeed article revealing “The Best House Plant According to Your Star Sign,” another viral meme sledging Scorpios, and a curated Spotify playlist for the current moon phase. It’s been called the new age of astrology and there’s a reason it’s happening right here, right now.
A 1982 study found people turn to astrologers in times of stress – and a 2020 study found millennials are the most stressed generation on record. It doesn’t take a genius (or divine philosopher) to add two and two. Basically, we’re all lost and searching desperately for a life raft to cling to.
Confession: I must admit I’ve never been a die-hard zodiac believer. Sure, I glance at magazine horoscopes when I’m getting a trim at the hairdressers, I chalk up my crippling perfectionism to being a Virgo, and I blame everything on Mercury retrograde, but I’ve generally considered astrology to be in the same lane as reality TV. There’s a basis of truth, but that truth can be easily misconstrued for dramatic effect, it can be manipulated to reflect what the audience wants to see, and it can be interpreted 100 different ways by 100 different people. I’ve always taken my horoscope with a grain of salt (ideally on the rim of a margarita glass).
Until now. My salt-rimmed scepticism dissolved after I had my birth chart read by Yasmin Boland, the London-based astrologer and moonologer (the latter is a term Boland coined to describe when “astrology meets the moon in conscious creation”). Speaking to Boland over Zoom was like chatting to a close friend who knew intimate details of my life. More than that, the conversation was like tapping into the subconscious voice in my mind that’s always been there, but I’ve had on mute. It was an awakening.
“You are a Virgo with Sagittarius rising and a Scorpio moon, so that means you’re very focused on your career [tick], you’re disciplined when it comes to money [tick] and you will do well to marry a Gemini [tick],” explained Boland, who seemed pleased when I revealed my boyfriend of nine years is, indeed, a Gemini. “I always tell women to never marry a man who hasn’t been through a Saturn return, so you should hold off a few years.”
Noted. I told my boyfriend to cancel all proposal plans until 2024 and started to practise what Boland preached. To fully embrace my birth chart, she advised me to be meticulous with my note-taking, to think positively and avoid going for the cheap laughs. As the stars wish.
On Tuesday, I wanted to turn down a new commission because I was feeling slightly overwhelmed with my workload, but my horoscope said to “start new projects and collaborate with others”. So I did, and the project was a breeze and I was more than capable of doing it along with the rest of my work. On Friday, my horoscope correctly pointed out that I was avoiding intimacy and pushed me to: “Express how you feel. Don’t play with people’s hearts like a sadistic cat.” So I apologised to my boyfriend for ignoring him all night, explained the source of my annoyance and asked him to “chew quieter for god’s sake, you sound like a cow.” On Saturday, my Co-Star app simply said, “You are incredible.” And look, I can’t argue with that.
The stars didn’t always get it right. Or, rather, I didn’t always agree with them. A Glamour article titled “These are the acts of self-care you should try, according to your star sign,” suggested I have a go at flower arranging, but I hate flowers. They die. Then you have to clean the vase. Hard pass. My Saturn Return Survival Guide offered up a manifestation spell to rid myself of toxicity. It involved scooping a bowl of salt water from the sea, burying a black candle with a list of habits I wish to rid my life of, and repeating a hex with the line: “I call on the universe to hear this petition. I banish, I banish.” Yeah, that’s a no from me. Towards the end of the week, Co-Star sent a notification saying, “Today you feel like the mouth of a cave,” and I still have no idea what that means.
Spells and riddles aside, when the stars aligned, I felt it all click into place. A shiver ran down my spine when Boland explained that Saturn is related to father figures. “I would suspect you had a difficult childhood [tick] and if you came from an unstable home [tick], stability will be your number one focus in life,” she said. “As you go through your Saturn return, you will make peace with that. The full moon is the right time to forgive things from the past and move on.”
Here’s where things get a bit dark. As I was relinquishing my life to the powers above, my estranged father was lying in a hospital bed doing the same, after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis. Once again, I was standing at a fork in the road looking for a sign. Should I turn left and visit my dad despite having not seen him in 10 years? Or should I veer right and stay put, leaving the past safely locked behind the door I slammed shut a decade ago? To decide, I referred to something Boland said in my birth-chart reading: “Now is a very good time for you to work on all your relationships. Rather than insisting on standing on your own two feet, you should reach out to other people for help.”
It was like Boland knew my greatest weakness and was daring me to face it. Being vulnerable is higher than flower arranging on my list of loathed activities. It’s not a selfless thing; I’m not altruistically protecting my loved ones from my problems. Or even a martyr thing; I don’t get off on suffering in silence. It’s a lazy thing. Talking about feelings is hard and I’d rather not do it.
Nevertheless, she persisted – and followed Boland’s advice. I asked for help and held my sister’s hand as we walked into the hospital. I made peace with the past as I sat beside my father’s bed and felt years of resentment and anger start to fade away. I opened up and cried on a friend’s shoulder, and I felt stronger for it all. If Saturn return is a test in breaking down and rebuilding, then I give myself an A+ (like the overachieving, perfectionist Virgo I am).
Facing the turbulence of my first Saturn return and the sobering reality of mortality, I found an unexpected comfort in my horoscope. “They say people don’t read their horoscopes when they’re having a good day. People often turn to astrology when they’ve got an issue they need to resolve,” says Boland. “Astrology helps people to understand themselves and the world around them. I hope you’re slightly helped knowing your unstable childhood was in your chart, and now you know that you can grow from it and use it to create a better future.”
I am, and I will.
With the full moon looming large in the night sky, I followed Boland’s commands once more and let my emotions flow free. I stood at my bedroom window looking up at the stars and let go of it all: the weight of the week that was, the challenges in my past, the fear of being vulnerable – and the pent-up anger I felt towards my neighbours, yelling, “Turn your music down for god’s sake, it’s 11pm.”
Sorry, that was a cheap laugh.
It turns out I wasn’t looking for a sign after all. I was looking for confirmation of what I already knew, a nod of approval to do what I wanted, an omen to show me I was on the right path. And that’s exactly what I found.