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Why astrologers study politicians’ birth times

An astrologer asked Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for her birth time. Shockingly, her team gave it to them.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) at SXSW 2019.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) at SXSW 2019.
Jim Bennett/WireImage
Rebecca Jennings is a senior correspondent covering social platforms and the creator economy. Since joining Vox in 2018, her work has explored the rise of TikTok, internet aesthetics, and the pursuit of money and fame online. You can sign up for her biweekly Vox Culture newsletter here.

We, the people, officially know Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-NY) exact birth time. It’s 11:50 am.

For most of us, this is a largely insignificant piece of information, but for some, it’s the final piece in a puzzle that could hold the clue to understanding one of the rising political firebrands in the country.

That “some” includes members of the astrology community, for whom birth time, as well as the exact longitude and latitude where a person was born, is crucial to determining their natal chart. Most Americans have at least a passing knowledge of their zodiac sign, which is assigned according to one’s birthday, but natal charts are much more complicated, and purportedly can offer clues on someone’s entire personality and life story.

The person who found AOC’s, meanwhile, is Arthur Lipp-Bonewits, an astrologer, medium, psychic, and constituent in AOC’s district. He reached out to her office, informing them of his intentions to share the time within the larger astrology community, and his resulting tweet went minorly viral.

According to Lipp-Bonewits, AOC’s chart makes total sense. “AOC is a fiery, passionate personality ... Aries, her Moon sign, and Sagittarius, her rising sign, are both fire signs,” he tells Vox. “Sagittarius rising puts Venus, the planet of beauty and charisma, in her first house — I’d expect that from someone known for their charisma. People with Sagittarius rising are also prone toward verbal gaffes, which she is.” An explainer on Allure also says that her chart shows she’s a great teacher and coalition builder.

But the fact that millennials are super into astrology (astrology memes, anyway) isn’t the only reason a tweet about AOC’s birth chart went viral. Astrologers have been studying the birth charts of politicians and other public figures for years, in an attempt to prognosticate their impact on the world.

The art of tracking a public figure’s birth chart

Patrick Watson, a full-time astrologer, has been studying the field for 15 years and is the person responsible for finding the birth times of both Tim Kaine and Paul Ryan during the 2016 and 2012 campaigns, respectively. Naturally, this required both tact and research skills.

“Obviously you have to be kind of careful because this personal information is a very strange piece of information,” he says. “It’s difficult to ask for that without sounding like a terrible creeper.” Instead, he says, most collectors rely on record laws in states, although most states make this reasonably difficult.

Once he has the data, he uploads it to Astro-Databank, the most highly respected source for such information. From there, professional astrologers and amateurs alike can study the birth charts of whomever they’re interested in.

For Watson, the motivation to study them is pretty much the same as any political wonk’s — he’s interested in predicting elections as well as finding out what might happen once a person takes office. (As for Kaine and Ryan, according to their birth charts, their greatest careers are still ahead of them.)

One political character who has foiled astrologers is Hillary Clinton, whose birth time is still unconfirmed. “I was able to make [an election] prediction in 2012,” says Watson (he correctly predicted that Obama would win), “but like most other astrologers in 2016, we didn’t have an accurate birth time for Hillary.”

That’s because we know Hillary Clinton was born at 8 o’clock, but it’s unclear whether in the morning or evening, a debate that has caused serious drama among astrologers for decades. “On the one hand, the 8 am chart seems to describe someone who is very ambitious and driven, versus the 8 pm chart, which is kind of a daft chart,” Watson laughs. “It’s not what I would expect for someone of her stature.”

And what do the heavens say about the sitting president? Well, the planet Mars was rising at the time of Trump’s birth — which we only know for sure because Trump released his birth certificate during his racist “birther” campaign — which means that he’s “someone who is very hot-headed, sharp, and embodies some of those martial qualities. He thrives on projecting this macho image of himself.” Fair!

But not even professional astrologers claim that natal charts are all-knowing documents. “Nobody’s chart necessarily spells doom,” says Lipp-Bonewits. “The chart shows the hand you’re dealt, but you choose how you play that hand. The main significance is that astrologers do research and study largely through the charts of public figures, whether politicians, entertainers, scientists, or athletes. Collecting birth data of public figures is a service astrologers do to help out the astrological community, so we can all study and learn from publicly available data.”

He also notes that astrology is largely interpretive, and depends on who’s doing the studying. “Every astrologer is also a human being, and as human beings we have biases,” he says. “AOC is a controversial figure — what an astrologer sees in her chart is going to be influenced by that astrologer’s preexisting political positions.”

Why astrology is suddenly mainstream

It is not exactly a secret that this website has a track record of skepticism toward astrology, having referred to the field as pseudoscience, “not real,” or “hooey.” While this attitude is essentially in line with that of the larger scientific community, astrology is nevertheless rising in popularity among young people (particularly very online ones).

An Atlantic piece from 2018 explores this phenomenon, noting that astrology tends to bubble up in times of uncertainty, as astrology is a way of explaining random events and personality traits. “It does give one a pleasing orderly sort of feeling, not unlike alphabetizing a library, to take life’s random events and emotions and slot them into helpfully labeled shelves,” writes Julie Beck. “This guy isn’t texting me back because Mercury retrograde probably kept him from getting the message. ... A combination of stress and uncertainty about the future is an ailment for which astrology can seem like the perfect balm.”

For professional astrologers, the mainstreaming of the field has been just as curious to witness from the other side. Now that seemingly every third post on Instagram is a “signs for avocado toast” breakdown, weekly horoscopes are old news. People who want to know what kind of avocado toast their sign says they should eat are, of course, utilizing astrology in a far different capacity from those who track politicians’ birth charts, but Watson says these dividing lines are breaking down.

“On Twitter and to some degree on Tumblr, there’s been crossover from the pop astrology world, people who are beginning to discover that there is actually this whole centuries-long tradition of astrology and a more rigorous method to it,” he explains. “Then some of the established astrologers are reaching out to these new people and are able to impart what they know and develop new people to mentor. The two groups are meeting now.”

But he also says he believes that the renewed interest in the field likely won’t last. “Astrology has always been a fringe subject. It occasionally surfaces as having some degree of popularity and then it won’t again. [Memes are] just the latest permutation of astrology and popular culture.”

Plus, that it still somewhat exists outside of mainstream culture is probably for the best. “I don’t think I’d want to live in a society that forced people to only have careers that matched with whatever astrological factor. I wouldn’t want to live in an astro-fascist [society], but I also don’t ever really think we’re in danger of that because I think there are enough people who kind of dismiss it as total gobbledygook anyway.”

Regarding those people, Watson tends to understand. “I can appreciate some of the skeptical arguments against astrology. But sometimes they’re argued from a place of malevolence or ignorance. I think this particular fad will probably crest and then astrology will fade back into obscurity on the fringes as it usually has.”

When it does, however, there will still be people like Lipp-Bonewits and Watson, gleaning political intel from the planets. Whether we’ll still be listening or not is a question better left to the stars.

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