TechCrunch estimates that mobile consumers will have downloaded a record 120 billion apps this year. Though there are no specific statistics, I counted well over a hundred astrology apps in Apple's App Store (including one that scans your face for further insight). Among the most popular, judged by ratings, are Co-Star, The DailyHoroscope, Astrology & Palmistry Coach, and Sanctuary Astrology.
I was particularly intrigued by Sanctuary because of its engaging, modern interface—a far cry from the dubious-looking palm reading establishments that dot Manhattan's streets. The company's founder and CEO, Ross Clark came to the industry from a market perspective not, initially, a belief perspective. "I'm not an astrologer," he says, "but fluent in it given what I do." In past positions at Condé Nast and Hearst, he observed a marked interest in astrology online. After a stint working on mystical content delivered via social media, Clark founded Sanctuary in March of 2019.
Users download the app, then enter their date, time, and location of birth. They can receive daily horoscopes and, in the "Guides" section, learn about how planets, moon phases, and more can affect their specific sign. For an additional fee, monthly birth chart readings are available.
I logged on for a daily horoscope one morning. I was greeted by a green button with the sun emoji and the words, "What's up today?" My first message was "Today is a doorway. Are you ready to walk through? Opportunity is ready to come knocking, but remember: you've got to be the one to notice it." More specific information based on the locations of the planets ("with Venus in your zone of self and identity...") came later, as did my "power emoji," a rocket ship. Though I placed little credence in these morsels of insight, I still appreciated the fun of it. And, if Venus was attracting all kinds of possibilities for me, I wasn't about to turn them down.
When I met Clark, he offered me a complementary reading to understand the platform better. Through the app, I connected with Kat, an astrologer who would do my reading. Sanctuary's astrologers, Clark had told me, are located around the world and perform live readings throughout the day and night. I'd already entered my birth date, time, and location information, so Kat would use that for our 15-minute text-based reading. "I'm pulling up your chart now," a text bubble within the app read. "What would you like to explore today? We can talk about love, purpose, career, or really anything you're wondering about." I wasn't sure what to ask or how specific to be.
Being a writer, I suggested personal creativity. "Maybe just helpful to look at my chart and tell me what pops out?" I responded. Kat replied eight seconds later, informing me that personal creativity held significance in my chart. "Your Moon in Libra in your fifth house of creativity, pleasure, and passion tells me that expressing yourself creatively is something that can bring you a sense of emotional fulfillment," she added. A stalwart cynic, I found myself making sense of what she suggested and relating it to my life. "My writing does fulfill me," I thought. "When I'm not writing enough creatively, I definitely get depressed." Today, especially, you may be feeling more emotionally invested in subconscious realms," she told me that Monday at 2:38 p.m. This resonated with me immediately: I was in the process of looking for a new therapist. She shared specific dates to pay special attention to: "Sunday is the beginning of the month-long window when [the creative] realm of your life comes into the sharpest focus. It would be good for you to set aside some time to look at your daily, weekly, and monthly routines."
The bite-sized directives and pieces of advice felt digestible and insightful— some part of me was comforted by the idea of a "higher power" dictating my priorities for the day and week. I quickly recoiled at the idea, though, disturbed that just one reading on an app (albeit an app with a pleasing interface and an insightful, well-spoken astrologer) could so easily sway me away from my strong-held ideas. A few weeks later, I opened Sanctuary again for another daily horoscope. It told me to reconnect with someone close to me, to just pick up the phone and call. I immediately identified the person in my orbit I'd been distant from. This advice felt right and true.
Though astrology remains a pseudoscience I don't anticipate pursuing, I see its appeal as a wellness methodology. It is grounded in something real—your date, time, and location of birth—and yet it could be considered a way to understand facets of life that may seem inexplicable or opaque. When a bad mood rears its head, an odd comfort can be found in the notion that there is a planetary explanation. Using an app to communicate in this way is efficient and approachable, it fits into your life as seamlessly as checking your email from bed or responding to a text at work. Just like a yoga class, morning meditation, or a face mask might make one feel more centered, for some, an astrology app could provide similar solace. And, in keeping with the Millennial way, all it takes is the tap of a screen.