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The next time someone says, “What’s your sign?” tell them, “The Cross.” The cross of Christ has far more meaning, importance, and truth than can be found in any astrological sign. But that answer will likely draw strange looks. That’s part of the fun. People may not realize it, but when they ask for your astrological sign, they’re probing into occultism. Seeking to find out if you’re an Aries, Taurus, or Capricorn, they’re harkening back to a long dark history of trying to extract secret knowledge and power from patterns in the stars.1 In the process, they are not only flirting with occult superstition, they’re assuming you do too. Of course, some people are just using a dippy little pick-up line to make conversation. In which case, answering “The Cross” might be the best answer you can give. You can filter out the confused mystics, deluded occultists, superstitious dabblers, and the secular swingers all in one clean stroke.
What Are Horoscopes? A horoscope is a “description of what is going to happen to you, based on the position of the stars and planets at the time of your birth.”2 Scientifically speaking, stars in the heavens on your birthday don’t do that — they don’t determine “what is going to happen to you.” They can’t predict anything. They just hang out in space and rotate. That mundane reality hasn’t stopped the 70 million or so Americans who, reportedly, read their horoscope every day.3 Horoscopes are a subset of astrology. So, if that 70 million number is correct, then a lot of people are casual astrologers.
What Is Astrology? Astrology is a mystical theory sometimes mistaken for the science of star-gazing known as astronomy. But astrology takes the science of the stars and mixes it with an occult belief that those star patterns affect people and events on Earth. More specifically, astrology is the “study of the movements and positions of the sun, moon, planets, and stars in the belief that they affect the character and lives of people” (emphasis added).4 While horoscopes are a subset of astrology, there’s another concept needed to connect the two. Cue the zodiac.
What Is the Zodiac? The zodiac is “an area of the sky through which the sun, moon, and most of the planets appear to move, divided into twelve equal parts, each with a name and symbol, and each connected with an exact time of year.”5 These twelve equal parts are called “houses.” Each house is named after a visible constellation (the sign) in that patch of sky. These houses form a belt around the Earth. Long ago, the constellations were all interpreted in a geo-centric model (Earth-centered solar system). Most astrology is still done that way. But now some astrologers use a heliocentric model, thanks to the Copernican revolution (see image below). (Image Source: https://i.stack.imgur.com/JR9l8.gif)
When people use the zodiac to find the exact alignment of celestial bodies at the time they were born, that’s called a “natal star chart.” A horoscope then is the reading of a natal star chart (from the zodiac), with the belief (from astrology) that that chart informs us about our character, luck, and upcoming events, giving us person-specific advice based on this mystical knowledge. That’s how horoscopes work.
But Do They Really Work? Horoscopes kind of work, but not really. Horoscopes aren’t accurate, even on the science side of things. There are serious errors in the zodiac that none other than NASA has pointed out.6 Your natal star chart according to the zodiac probably doesn’t line up with where the stars actually were when you were born. That’s because there aren’t twelve, but thirteen, houses, and they move in ellipses, not circles. So they don’t occupy equal time-frames in the visible sky.7 Plus, there is planetary drift and gravitational shift. All of these indicate gradual migration and distortion over the last 3,000+ years since astrologers began charting the sky.8 To the extent that modern horoscopes rely on antiquated star charts, they aren’t even getting the star-gazing part right. Horoscopes are still fashionable today, but that’s in spite of systemic flaws in charting the stars.
WHY ARE HOROSCOPES STILL POPULAR?
On one level, it’s easy to imagine what ancient people must have felt looking up at the stars. The night sky is sublime! One can’t help but feel an urge to worship. The heavens exude a sense of transcendence and significance. From a Christian standpoint, that sentiment makes sense.
The stars do mean something. According to Scripture, the physical heavens have significant meaning. The uncountable array of heaven’s hosts are signs of God’s rapturous glory. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1 NIV).
For theists, star-gazing is a natural opportunity to worship the Creator God in the glory of His creation. Whatever else horoscopes get wrong, this partial truth should not be overlooked. It’s only natural to look up at the heavens and feel a sense of religious wonder. Scripture also describes stars as light-bearers, significant for time telling, calendaring, and navigation.
And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights — the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:14–18 NIV; cf. Job 38:31–32)
There’s nothing inherently occult or sinful about using constellations to denote the night sky for navigation, time telling, and calendaring.
Discontentment with Biblical Christianity. People can have all those things — wonder, light, calendaring, navigation — within biblical Christianity. No horoscopes are needed. People read their daily horoscopes not because they’re reaching for the Bible or for Jesus. They’re reaching for something else. For whatever reason, they are discontent with the historic Christian faith. Perhaps they think Christianity includes horoscopes (it doesn’t). Or perhaps they know Scripture forbids astrology (and horoscopes with it) but that doesn’t stop them. Either way, they aren’t satisfied with biblical Christianity.
Horoscopes Seem to work. Horoscopes do seem to work. But “seeming” can be deceiving. Imagine if your horoscope read like one of the following:
“Today you’ll buy only one lottery ticket and with it win a multi-million-dollar lottery.”
“You’ll meet Mr. Right at 9:07 am today. Propose to him immediately. He’ll accept.”
“Today’s flooding in your area will wash away your car and scooter but not your bicycle.”
In these cases, each “description of what is going to happen to you” is specific and testable. Each one has a discrete predictive value. They’re true or false. But horoscopes are never like this. Otherwise, they’d be openly discredited. Clearly, false predictions would disenchant and drive away its customer base. Horoscope columnists are too clever for that. With some interpretive flare, they can write daily predictions that are relatable but flexible, personal but not specific, giving the illusion of knowledge without risk of falsification.
Let’s be clear, though. By all scientific measures, horoscopes, the zodiac, and astrology lack reliable, specific, explanatory, or predictive power.9 Horoscopes do not “work” in any scientifically credible way. They only seem to work because of different cognitive biases and parlor tricks like confirmation bias, the Barnum effect, cold-reading, placebo effect, educated guessing, self-fulfilling prophecy, and raw probabilities.10
Occult Beliefs. Former astrologer Marcia Montenegro explains how horoscopes and the occult relate:
Astrological philosophy is based on the occult worldview that asserts “as above, so below.” According to this view, everything in the universe is one and is connected; therefore, the patterns of the planets reflect our lives on earth. As a former astrologer, I can tell you that although many astrologers scorn horoscope columns as “pop” astrology of little value, the astrological worldview is essential even to the writing of a horoscope. When you read such a column, you are in a subtle way either accepting that worldview or assigning…value to it.11
Montenegro is saying that people who engage with horoscopes are indulging in an occult worldview, which, contrary to science, natural knowledge, and Christianity, teaches that the cosmos is mystically inter-connected, directing all our lives as if everything is one big conscious being (monism).12
Occult Fascination. Not everyone who reads their horoscope or dabbles in astrology has a full-blown occult worldview. Most horoscope readers do not see themselves as occultists. The horoscope appeals to them, not because it reinforces their worldview or religious commitments, but because the occult is fascinating. Occultism offers the allure of secret knowledge and hidden power. An attractive cheat code for richer living.
For some, it begins as a light-hearted hobby. They check their daily horoscope for mere entertainment, laughing at the bad guesses, only rarely seeing any credibility in it. They flirt with horoscopes, not intending commitment, though the relationship can heat up over time. For others, horoscopes have the intrigue of puzzles. If you can solve this astrological quest, you’re rewarded with new insight and empowerment in your journey of self-discovery. People can be drawn stepwise into the occult, especially if it seems innocent at first.
Cultural Factors. Astrology and horoscopes are commonplace in many cultures. People can tacitly accept horoscopes because they grew up around them, married into astrology, or moved into that kind of neighborhood. When occult beliefs and practices are woven throughout a culture, people who identify with that culture may embrace horoscopes in the process. Solidarity and social identity can be incredibly powerful influences.
HOW SHOULD CHRISTIANS UNDERSTAND HOROSCOPES?
To be clear, biblical Christianity does not support horoscopes. Scripture affirms using the stars for time keeping, navigation, and as evidence of God’s glory, but nothing like what we see in astrology. And horoscopes are a subset of astrology. Not only does Scripture refrain from supporting horoscopes. When it discusses any kind of astrology, it condemns the practice. Deuteronomy 18:10–12 gives a sweeping rebuke of all such occultism: “Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord; because of these same detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you” (ESV).
Horoscopes involve charting out the heavens to “divine” hidden knowledge from the alignment of stars. That’s divination. Thus, horoscopes are entailed within “divination” and “omens.” Isaiah 47:13–14 makes this rebuke even clearer: “You are wearied with your many counsels; let them stand forth and save you, those who divide the heavens, who gaze at the stars, who at the new moons make known what shall come upon you. Behold, they are like stubble; the fire consumes them; they cannot deliver themselves from the power of the flame. No coal for warming oneself is this, no fire to sit before!” (ESV).
Isaiah was foretelling Babylon’s fall, mocking their impotent horoscopes and astrology. All their star charts and false religion will burn away in the fire of God’s judgment. Babylon was hardly unique. Horoscopes and astrology have been common across cults and world religions spanning world history and most cultures. But for biblical Christians, all that divination is an exercise in futility — giving creation the glory meant for its Creator.
Scripture forbids astrology directly and indirectly over a dozen other times. See Leviticus 19:26, 31; 20:6; Deuteronomy 4:19; 1 Samuel 15:23; Job 31:26–28; 1 Chronicles 10:13–14; 33:3–5; Jeremiah 8:2; 10:2; 27:10; Isaiah 47:12–15; 8:19; Zephaniah 1:5; Zechariah 10:2; 2 Kings 17:16; 21:3–6; 23:4; Ezekiel 8:16-18; Daniel 1:20; 2:27; 5:7; Micah 5:12; and Acts 16:16; 19:18–20. Horoscopes are forbidden as idolatry.
What’s the Harm? Undoubtedly, some will argue that horoscopes are no big deal. It’s all fun and games, right? However, horoscopes can be very harmful, especially as a gateway to superstitious fears and further occultism. We shouldn’t underestimate the human ability to rationalize, excuse, and accommodate our dabbling habits. But even if there were no detectable harms, it’s still disobedience. Even a little idolatry is still idolatry. Imagine trying to explain to your husband that just a little adultery is no big deal. Adultery betrays our spouse. Idolatry betrays our God. As such, horoscopes are not a viable option for Christian practice (or for anyone else).
What about Luke 21:25–27? This apocalyptic passage, paralleled in Matthew 24:29–31 and Mark 13:24–27, refers to the Son of Man arriving in a magnificent display of judgment and power, which many understand to be the second coming of Christ.13 But mixed into that end-times language it mentions “signs in the sun and moon and stars,” This passage might sound like support for astrology and possibly horoscopes for mentioning “signs” in the heavens. The passage reads: “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (ESV).
We should remember that Scripture forbids astrology (horoscopes included) dozens of times. Letting the volume and clarity of those passages speak plainly spells a general rule: no astrology. In that light, can we reasonably understand Luke 21:25–27 without inferring support for astrology?
Yes, there are all sorts of ways that people read “signs” in the heavens without astrology or anything outside of natural science or natural observation. Astronomy and meteorology are natural sciences that help us infer predictable phenomena from heavenly bodies. Overcast clouds signal storms. Plummeting barometric pressure plus heavy rainless clouds can signal a tornado. In that vein, even if Luke 21 is read in a literal straight-forward manner, there’s no need to resort to astrology to understand what it means if the sun started behaving erratically, the moon began wobbling, and stars started falling from the sky. Furthermore, this passage has the marks of apocalyptic genre, thus lending itself to a wider range of symbolic and figurative interpretation. Nevertheless, even from a non-figurative perspective, we can easily recognize these foreboding signs of cataclysm without resorting to astrology.
What about the Wise Men in Matthew 2? The Wise Men in the nativity scene saw a star in the sky which they correctly interpreted as signaling the King of the Jews (Matt 2:1–2). These men may have been part of a (sometimes) monotheistic world religion called Zoroastrianism, which, at that time, involved astrology. So, this passage sounds like support for horoscopes — but not after closer observation.
First, it’s descriptive, not prescriptive. Matthew 2 is biographical history, reporting events around the birth of Jesus. It’s not a teaching passage telling people to directly “Do this!” The Wise Men can be commended for seeking Jesus, even if their methods aren’t prescribed.
Second, the text says it was a star. It doesn’t say constellation or house in the zodiac. While an individual star can be important within horoscopes, diviners aren’t just looking for a star. They rely on the house, combined with solar and lunar positions, and other phenomena to inform their readings. Mentioning a star is consistent with but doesn’t prove astrology. A single star is not enough confirmation.
Third, astrology and astronomy weren’t as distinct back then. The Wise Men might have been astrologers, but astrology and astronomy overlapped a lot back then. The Wise Men might have been working in the blurry borderlands between the two. They could have been doing the best science of their day, about 1,000 years before the scientific revolution. That “blurry middle” option isn’t viable today, however, since astronomy is now a distinct science from the occult-framed astrology.14
Fourth, the clearer biblical texts forbid astrology (see above). And, as a general rule, Scripture should interpret Scripture, especially when a dozen plus passages clearly forbid astrology, even though one descriptive passage isn’t as clear.
Fifth, the “star” could be a spiritual vision or supernatural light (prophetic sign),15 or it could occur in the inner atmosphere. In that way, this star would be akin to a signal flare or a dream, unrelated to astrology. Similarly, in Luke 2:8–15, the shepherds had a vision of a “great company of heavenly hosts.” Just because these men looked up to see them, that doesn’t mean it’s in outer space. The same could be true for the Wise Men.
Sixth, the Wise Men didn’t need astrology to know there was a messianic signal star in the land of Jacob (Israel). They could have set aside all horoscopes and turned to Numbers 24:17 to see that “a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth” (ESV).
Surely There’s Some Goodness and Truth in Horoscopes? Some of the most dangerous lies are very nearly true. Strictly speaking, we can admit some truth in horoscopes in that they recognize value in the stars. The stars are witness to God’s majestic glory. We can also treat the heavenly hosts as part of God’s creation, studying them through astronomy. Apologists owe a great debt to astronomers for helping to craft the scientific basis for the cosmological argument.16 The stars can also serve in navigation and calendaring. The stars witness to an orderly and intentional plan in God’s creative work.
With all these redeeming reasons for astronomy, horoscopes are still a poor and deluded substitute. Horoscopes are pseudo-science, replacing knowledge with superstition and false beliefs. They not only lack predictive value, they’re obstacles to truth, wisdom, and understanding.
Instead of turning to horoscopes for life direction and good fortune, we do better to seek God in prayer, spend time reading and studying Scripture, and seek counsel through godly Christian fellowship. After all, “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10 NIV).
John D. Ferrer, PhD, is a content creator for Crossexamined Ministries and a teaching Fellow with Equal Rights Institute. He has an MDiv in Apologetics and a ThM and PhD in Ethics and Philosophy of Religion.
- Here the word “stars” refers to planets, moons, stars, comets, or any celestial bodies. Regarding “occult,” see John Ferrer, “Infiltrated: Recognizing and Responding to Occultism in Your Church,” Christian Research Journal, October 30, 2019, updated March 7, 2023, https://www.equip.org/articles/infiltrated-recognizing-and-responding-to-occultism-in-your-church/.
- “Horoscope,” Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge Advanced Learners Dictionary and Thesaurus [online], Cambridge University Press, accessed October 6, 2023, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/horoscope.
- Linda Rodriquez McRobbie, “How Are Horoscopes Still a Thing?,” Smithsonian Magazine, January 5, 2016, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/how-are-horoscopes-still-thing-180957701/.
- “Astrology,” Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge Advanced Learners Dictionary and Thesaurus [online], Cambridge University Press, accessed July 29, 2023, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/astrology/.
- “Zodiac,” Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge Advanced Learners Dictionary and Thesaurus [online], Cambridge University Press, accessed July 29, 2023, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/zodiac.
- “Constellations and the Calendar: Did You Recently Hear That NASA Changed the Zodiac Signs? Nope, We Definitely Didn’t” [Blogpost], NASA, Tumblr, September 20, 2016, https://nasa.tumblr.com/post/150688852794/zodiac.
- “Constellations and the Calendar.”
- “Constellations and the Calendar.”
- I. W. Kelly, “Astrology and Science: A Critical Examination,” Psychological Reports, 44.3 suppl. (1979): 1231–1240, accessed August 29, 2023, https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.1979.44.3c.1231.; For a skeptical yet sympathetic critique of astrology — from an astrologer — see Geoffrey Dean, “Meta-Analysis of Nearly 300 Studies: Putting Astrology and Astrologers to the Test,” Astrology and Science, adapted from Geoffey A. Dean, Astrology Under Scrutiny: Close Encounters with Science, (Amsterdam: Wout Heukelom and Cygnea van der Hoonig, 2014), https://www.astrology-and-science.com/D-meta2.htm.
- Esteban Pardo, “The Psychology Behind Why We Believe Horoscopes,” Deutsche Welle, July 5, 2022, https://www.dw.com/en/the-psychology-behind-why-we-believe-in-horoscopes/a-62250008.
- Marcia Montenegro, “Horoscopes: To Read or Not to Read,” Christian Answers for the New Age (1994), accessed September 4, 2023, https://www.christiananswersnewage.com/article/horoscopes-to-read-or-not-to-read.
- On occult/occultism see Ferrer, “Infiltrated,” https://www.equip.org/articles/infiltrated-recognizing-and-responding-to-occultism-in-your-church/. Examples of occult beliefs include the principle of correspondence (“as above, so below”), the principle of mentalism (“the all is mind, the universe is mental”), and the Wiccan Rede (“An’ it harm none, do as ye will.”). See Kybalion, principles I, II, www.kybalion.org/kybalion.php?chapter=II; and the Wiccan Rede, https://www.wicca.com/wicca/wiccan-rede.html.
- Some distinguish the prophetic import of Luke 21:25–26 from verse 27, and Matthew 24:29 from verses 30–31, and Mark 13:24–25 from verses 26–27, separating these heavenly signs from Christ’s second coming. The Synoptic authors are quoting Isaiah 13:9–10 in each of those passages before quoting Daniel 7:13. This schema lends room for treating the “signs in the sun and moon and stars” as figurative language. In that view, these passages are not treating the sun, moon, and stars as actual objects (signifiers) whose fluctuations foreshadow cataclysmic upheaval (signified); rather, it is only figuratively using the language of “sun, moon, and stars” to evoke a sense of impending doom and/or the downfall of great powers. In that way, there is no upheaval in the heavens in view, just figurative language describing upheaval on earth — the demise of Babylon in Isaiah’s day (sixth century BC), and the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in the first century AD. This figurative reading, however, might not be necessary since the scenes in Isaiah 13:9–10, Daniel 7:13, and in the Synoptics could be understood typologically such that partial fulfillments of this prophetic theme (cataclysmic divine judgment over a nation) has occurred in the fall of Babylon and the destruction of the Temple, but not until Christ’s return will these prophetic themes be fully and finally resolved, complete with literal cataclysmic disturbances in the stars. For a defense of the figurative reading of Luke 21:25–27 see, Hank Hanegraaff, “Apocalypse When? Why Most End-time Teaching Is Dead Wrong,” Christian Research Journal, August 29, 2014, updated April 12, 2023, https://www.equip.org/articles/apocalypse-when/; and Hank Hanegraaff, Apocalypse Code: Find Out What the Bible Really Says About the End Times…and Why It Matters Today (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007).
- On a related note, God can use people’s flawed methods to communicate His truth. Even if God allowed astrologers to use their occult methods to arrive at the foot of Jesus, at best, that just proves that God can use a “crooked stick to draw a straight line,” so to speak. That’s hardly proof that astrology is generally safe, wise, or permissible.
- See T. Michael Davis, “The Star of Bethlehem: Light from Heaven,” Christian Research Journal, Vol. 30, No. 6 (2007), https://www.equip.org/articles/the-star-of-bethlehem/.
- For example, see Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers, Second ed. (NY: W.W. Norton, 2000)