Hello. My name is Hayley, and I am a Millennial. I was born in 1987, I grew up a 90’s child (with the best collection of Pokemon cards on my street), and like a large majority of my Millennial peers, I am a godless heathen.
You may know that fewer and fewer young people believe that you must follow religious teachings to be a moral person and as such do not identify as religious. Yet, you may not know that as a result of this many young people are turning to spirituality to find the meaning of life and the answers they seek, [Edwards, 2017].
Witchcraft seems to be en vogue too, and instagram posts, Etsy shops, and Facebook ads for everything from Smudge sticks, ouija boards, witch-y clothing and crystal grids are endless. i’ve always been interested in how women have shifted from just being “cunning women” who used herbs and folk magic and would never have identified as witches, to actively using their identities as witches as statements of empowerment and even as outlets for political and social activism.
It has given me a lot of food for thought because on one hand, I think there are positives to people embracing self care and thoughtfulness, but on the other hand, there are negatives which need to be considered when this thoughtfulness comes at the cost of superstitious thinking and anti-science rhetoric.
In this post I am going to concentrate on one particular aspect of this Millennial Spookiness – Astrology.
The number of people who believe astrology has some scientific basis continues to grow in trend. In his 2011 research into why people believe astrology is scientific, Allum hypothesised that such beliefs may stem from three causes. The first was that people ‘lack the necessary scientific literacy to distinguish science from pseudoscience’, the second that people are ‘confused about what astrology actually is’ in the first place, and the final cause suggested was ‘derived from Adorno’s work on authoritarianism’ linking ‘those who adhere to authoritarian values’ as ‘more likely to believe in astrological claims’. By reviewing the data from a European survey of 30,000 people from 25 countries across the EU, Allum found support for all three components in his hypothesis, demonstrating the importance of scientific literacy in society, (McAvoy, 2014).
In addition to the research by Allum, in their paper on belief in astrology, Bauer and Durant (1997) hypothesised that ‘belief in astrology may be an indicator of the disintegration of community and its concomitant uncertainties and anxieties.’ And there certainly is a lot to be anxious about in the tumultuous times we currently live in! Bauer and Durant concluded that those who believe in astrology tended to demonstrate ‘intermediate levels of scientific understanding, high levels of religiosity, and low levels of religious integration’. So, while visiting an astrologist, psychic, rune caster or palmist is unscientific, this could simply be young people searching for a way to find some meaning and direction in an otherwise chaotic world. However, such unscientific beliefs and practices do not come without risks.
Astrological readings seem personalised and meaningful to us because of something called the Forer effect which causes cleverly worded generic statements to seem tailored for the individual they’re given to. This is an effect taken advantage of by the less honest people found at Mind, Body, Spirit-type events where people seeking answers will often part with their cash and just get these generic statements given to them in return. Sometimes, this results in scripts of such statements being used which The Good Thinking Society found in 2015 when they send undercover reporters to buy palm readings, resulting in all researchers being given exactly the same readings.
It has been known for people who use the Forer effect to their advantage to drain people of their life savings, cause panic and alarm with false warnings, issue dangerous health advice and ruin lives and relationships.
Right now, life is scary and it’s not difficult to understand why people are keen to find some solace in the chaos, some meaning in the randomness, some calm in the storm… but you can do this without rejecting science. Personally, life has been tough in the last few years and to deal with the stuff I’ve been through I explored different ways to find that calm. Now, I try to meditate at least twice a week. Even though many atheists seem repelled by the idea, it isn’t actually strange for atheists and the non-religious people to meditate. You don’t have to chant anything, burn incense, sit in the lotus position, clear your mind, or align your (non-existent) chakras.
I use an app and can choose to meditate for 2, 5 or 10 minutes whenever I want. I usually try to do it in the morning before my morning routine to get me set for the day, but being a disorganised millennial means I usually only remember to do this a few times a week. Now only does it give me time in my routine to breathe and not do anything, there is serious psychological research which (although still in it’s infancy) has demonstrated that meditation is good for your mind, body and… well… your “spirit”, (Seppälä, 2013). As an atheist, I don’t believe we have spirits or souls, but I do think that a little introversion and self-reflection is good for you, and it’s certainly a healthier option than taking life advice from vague statements from a stranger.
Bauer, M & Durant, J (1997) ‘Belief in Astrology: a social-psychological analysis’, Culture & Cosmos, Vol 1, no. 1, pp. 55, [Online] Available at http://www.cultureandcosmos.org/pdfs/1-1/CandC-1_1-Bauer-and-Durant-p55.pdf (accessed date 24.06.18)
Edwards, S. (2017) ‘Why More Millennials Are Turning to Witchcraft for Activism & Self-Care’, Flare.com [Online] Available at http://www.flare.com/news/millennial-witchcraft/ (accessed date 24.06.18)
Marshall, M (2015) ‘Good Thinking Investigates: Palmistry (Part 3)’, Good Thinking Society [Online] Available at https://goodthinkingsociety.org/good-thinking-investigates-palmistry-part-3/ (accessed date 24.06.18)
McAvoy, J. (2012) Why Methods Matter’, in McAvoy, J and Brace, N. (eds) Investigating Methods, Milton Keynes, The Open University.
Seppälä, E (2013) ’20 Scientific Reasons to Start Meditating Today’, Psychology Today [Online] Available at https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/feeling-it/201309/20-scientific-reasons-start-meditating-today (accessed