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  • Mohan Rajagopal

Coasting Through with Co-Star: Ashoka’s Attitudes towards Astrology

Over the past semester, three of my friends and I began to spend our every waking moment outside class hours on the couches in the corner of the library cafe. Inevitably, at some point during the day, we would all share a knowing look and whip out our phones for our daily tradition: it was time to check our Co-Star horoscopes.

For the uninitiated, Co-Star is an app that lies at the intersection of astrology and social media. Users enter the date, time, and place of their birth, and the app computes their astrological placements, providing daily horoscopes which can be compared to their friends’ on the app. Before coming to Ashoka, I knew nothing about astrology apart from my own sun sign, and I had never heard of Co-Star. Nearly two years later, while I still don’t lay much stock in it, I make it a point to scroll through the app every day, largely due to the culture surrounding astrology on campus.

The ironic dichotomy between disbelief and frequent participation is a common thread through the conversations I had in preparation for this article. Diya Mahesh, UG’ 25, “downloaded Co-Star as a joke” when she heard about the app from a friend. Now, she often checks it for compatibility tests with her friends and posts her daily horoscopes on her Instagram stories.

While Kevin Mutta, UG’ 24, describes themself as a “pretty faithless person”, Co-Star is the first thing they check every midnight. “I do follow astrology to a very large extent,” they say, showing me their tarot deck with which they do readings for themself and their close friends.

For Ray Baveja, ASP’24, astrology is a much more casual endeavour: “I occasionally scroll through astrology accounts on Twitter, and I have Co-Star but I barely check it”.

Scepticism being willingly overlooked is strange, to say the least. This might be rooted in how astrology often provides a platform for reassurance; personally, I find it therapeutic to have a daily routine of checking my Co-Star. Looking up my horoscope at the start of each day does wonders for any anxiety I’m experiencing. I’m well aware the app has no bearing on my life, but it provides a sense of having some control in terms of what to expect for the day, which is a welcome comfort.

“The environment at Ashoka is so geared towards atheism or anti-theism,” says Kevin, to the point that astrology becomes a tool of bespoke faith people turn to in lieu of religion. In a moment of doubt over a relationship, they turned to a tarot reading: “What the cards were saying was not necessarily the best thing ever, but just looking at them gave me so much reassurance.”

Referring to the language and vocabulary used by Co-Star, Ray says “These are the kind of things you would hear from a therapist, and they’re very comforting to people.” The soothing, yet direct, messaging on the app almost sounds like a mentor advising you on life. At the same time, the overfamiliarity and firmness of the horoscope set it apart from most other media of astrology, and a good example of this would be my horoscope for the day:

On the whole, though, an undercurrent of disbelief colours the manner in which astrology is perceived at Ashoka. Irony is fundamental to Gen-Z consumption and culture, to the point where phenomena and forms of humour considered ‘cringe’ in the 2010s have made a comeback in the past few years, in the manner of ironic reclamation.

Most teenagers and adolescents in India are no strangers to their parents hiring astrologers, although these incidents are rooted in sincerity with religious undertones. Gen-Z’s approach to astrology could not be more different: “I haven’t interacted with many people who take it extremely seriously as opposed to just doing it for fun,” says Diya. She goes on to point out the transformation of astrology into an internet phenomenon has made it more appealing to the generation as well.

Kevin, who picked up tarot because it was “aesthetically appealing” to them, has modelled their dorm room on a ‘witch-core’ aesthetic, with tapestries, posters, and planetary alignment charts.

What the internet culture, and Co-Star specifically, has done to astrology is transform it, from a previously-unseen to a social experience. The main appeal of Co-Star is the option to add friends, view their profiles, and see how compatible you might be. When I check my horoscopes with my friends, the emphasis is less on the contents of the app itself and more on using it as a medium to bond with them. Eerily poignant horoscopes elicit deeply personal revelations, which serve as an opportunity for intimacy with my friends.

For Diya, Co-Star was the reason for one of her close friendships, since the app kept encouraging her to interact with someone she didn’t know very well. “Every day, the compatibility section would say, ‘You guys are made for each other, you should spend time with them’, and every day we would send it to each other. Because of that, we hung out more and now we’re friends.”

Aspects of both performance and sociability are brought together in Kevin’s tarot readings. When I question how they immerse themself in the reading while not believing in the cards, Kevin laughs and fittingly describes the process as “pattern recognition, with a flavour of delusion.” Recognising most rituals are simply elevated performances, they explain, “It’s not that the universe is saying something to me. It’s more of looking at a set of patterns, identifying the way you recognise them, and using that to set up a new perspective for yourself.”

Instead of a half-hearted cursory reading, Kevin and their friends immerse themselves in the experience by drawing the curtains, lighting candles, and scenting the room. Tarot is not merely an act of participating in astrology for them, but a ritualistic performance staged by the friend group to bring them closer together. “Other people have asked me for tarot readings, but the most effective and heavy ones are the ones I do with my closest friends.”

Scrolling through astrology content online very quickly reveals, however, how gendered the phenomenon is. While this is somewhat less prominent in Ashoka, astrology continues to be boxed into a more feminine space. Diya recalls that in her co-educational school, it was mostly the girls who followed their horoscopes. “That changed a bit when I got to Ashoka,” she says. “I know a lot of guys who mock Co-Star, but still check it every day.”

Ray observes that on campus, “the men I have seen engage with astrology are either queer or labelled ‘softboy’, which is interesting because it implies astrology almost comes naturally to women, without any label.”

Requiring introspection and contemplating emotions, both of which are generally considered more feminine traits, astrology provides a safe space for women and queer people largely uninvaded by men. “A lot of critique goes out at women for doing anything at all,” says Kevin.

Regardless of whether one believes in it or not, I have seen astrology form the basis for many wholesome interactions on campus. I’ve heard of men downloading Co-Star to impress the girl they like; Kevin smiles at the thought of sending screenshots of their horoscope to their best friend; my horoscopes fill me with quiet contentment in moments when I need validation. Some of my favourite memories of the semester have been overanalysing my Co-Star for the day with my friends, trying to figure out how it fit into my life at that moment. The significance of astrology lies not in the belief in the universe’s plans for us, but in the meaning we craft when using this medium.

When thinking about why so many people around the world have taken to astrology, Ray put it best: “It reminds you to be a nicer and kinder person.”

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Jul 01, 2023

This is well-written but I am curious to understand why the author chooses to treat this phenomenon as a mere curiosity when there is an evident contradiction: it is said that people do not believe in astrology (as they should not; it has been conclusively proven by studies that astrology is hokum) yet they find comfort in it. Similarly, the author claims that Co-Star resembles the words of a therapist but we all know that this is a well-oiled algorithm chewing up your information and spitting out words of comfort. The piece would feel complete only if such paradoxes were addressed but - sigh - the only hint of a conflict approach the other chooses to take is along gender…

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