The first time I visited Magic Jewelry to have my aura read, I told myself I was doing it as a joke. The tiny store in Chinatown is impressively hard to find, practically blending into the background on the busy corner of Canal Street and Centre, its one identifying marker a burning green neon sign humming its name. Inside the small, cluttered storefront, a friend and I took turns sitting in a chair. We placed our hands on metal plates and waited for our photographs to develop.
I was bathed in an orange mist, with a spot of green opening up around my chest. According to the woman behind the counter, the colors meant that I was focused on my success at work. I wasn’t sure if my reading was accurate, but it made me reconsider events that had just taken place at work in a new light. I decided that this was the kind of thing that would be fun to do maybe once every six months—I laughed as a told this to my friend, an attempt to assure her that I wasn’t serious. But I was.
I went back every six months like clockwork, in search of some kind of sign. I never bothered to ask myself exactly what kind of sign I was looking for, a tacit acknowledgment that I was lost.
I couldn’t let myself just go to Magic Jewelry, not by myself—if I did, it would be evidence that this ritual was serious; that it was important. Instead, I waited until I had an excuse to go downtown. Once I took a friend visiting from out of town; another time, a friend going through an abrupt breakup. Both times, I suggested the aura photographs were entertainment, something to pass the time. But the truth is that I was looking for something specific. As someone who is prone to mining the details of my life, cyclically and relentlessly looking for the key to unlock a problem I have long struggled to describe, I was hungry for a new angle. I wanted to outsource reflection and self-growth, tired of my own surgically precise dissections about who I am and how I should be. I was not particularly concerned about the source or its credibility. I was ready to give myself over to anything, including a small shop interpreting my aura for $20.
It never occurred to me that I was depressed; I just assumed that the weighty cloud I lived in was a choice—or rather, it was the result of several choices. I believed my sadness was the product of my own making, and so I also believed I could create the remedy. Over the year, I dedicated time and energy into building a world of small comforts—aura photography became one of them. Another was reading my horoscope. I started reading my horoscope every week shortly after I moved to New York. I was 24 and convinced that I would never find my place in the city or in the industry I was hoping to work. My obsessive mind constantly scanned for evidence to the contrary, but I only found signs to validate my hypothesis.
My horoscope offered a reprieve from living inside of my head; it told a story about my last week or my next month that I wasn’t telling myself, one free of irrevocable doom. It’s funny how easy it was to keep reading, despite not ever really believing in astrology; it’s funny how much hope I took in being told on a regular basis that yes, I’d had a rough week, but look, I had a big meeting coming up, and things could change. I loved that feeling especially since I was unable to conjure it up for myself.
When I read my horoscope, I didn’t care whether its predictions came true. I never fact-checked my horoscope, although I thought about it: I could write down everything that happened that week and how I felt and then read my horoscope, or vice versa, and see how they compared. But I wasn’t using astrology as a way to guide decision making or materially change anything. I turned to it because it felt like a daily pep talk, one purportedly designed exclusively for me (and everyone else who was born between November 21 and December 21). I grew attached to the feeling of being assured that I could change. And my horoscope claims to me know me; to be as invested as I am in making a life that is meaningful and beautiful and free of worry. Similar to getting my aura read, it felt like an opportunity to get to know myself better, through a kinder, more compassionate lens. (No one’s ever gotten a shitty horoscope—or at least, this is what I concluded after years of reading mine.)
But unlike what I do in therapy, I never had to build on what my horoscope tells me or what my aura reveals; both are limitless and renewable resources. I am certainly not the only person who has looked to the stars for relief from my anxiety; plenty of people, especially young women, do—as evidenced by the rise of astrology on social media. It’s easy to see why: Your horoscope—whether you read it every day or once a year—meets you on a plane where leaving your past behind and embarking on the journey to your dreams is really possible. But my horoscope, no matter how much it resonated with me every week, had no institutional memory. The ways in which it served me were shapeless, comforting but ineffective.
My horoscope became a useless marker. When you struggle with depression you can adopt a bird’s eye or meta-level view of yourself. I always felt like, if I was sad, it was because I was different from other people. After a while, my sadness became the thing that kept me apart from my peers, at least in my mind. Tracking that, along with my horoscope, only ever furthered the feelings of otherness and frustration.
I looked to astrology to cast a brighter light on all the details I’ve been hell-bent on examining, in search of some crucial piece of information about myself—the thing that would unlock everything, providing every answer, every sign, every assurance I sought. But I suspect that such clarity does not actually exist. I still read my horoscope, but it’s at more of a distance. It’s not that I find it any less comforting, it’s that I looked up and realized I like it here, existing in the potential, believing in change but never actualizing it, and I was suddenly worried that if I liked it so much, I would make it my home.