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Wednesday December 8th

'Find yourself in the sky': The stars realign in Gen Z culture

<p>The stars shown over Haw River on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019. According to some UNC students, astrology, the stars, and 'alternative spirituality' are shining in Gen Z culture.&nbsp;</p>
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The stars shown over Haw River on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019. According to some UNC students, astrology, the stars, and 'alternative spirituality' are shining in Gen Z culture. 

While astrology, magic, tarot and other non-traditional spiritual media have existed for thousands of years, many agree these alternative systems have made a comeback in Gen Z culture.

Practitioners of magic and astrology are not the only ones who have noticed this revival. Alternative spirituality seems to continue to thrive in both business and academia as well.

Christian Berry (Gemini)

Christian Berry, co-owner of Everyday Magic in downtown Durham, has found both a successful career and a fulfilling spirituality in magic.

“Alternative spirituality and magic and all that jazz just sort of offers a more connected community with less prejudice and criticism than religion, in my experience," Berry said. "It opens itself up to your interpretation, as well as respecting ancestry and ancient ways and schools of thought. I just think there’s more room for a deep breath inside of alternative spirituality.”

Berry said the internet has been a major contributor to his business and the resurgence of magic and astrology in general.

“I own a shop that sells all these alternative spiritual things, and it fully pays my bills and lets me live a nice comfortable life,"  Berry said. "So, there’s more freedom inside of this world. I think the resurgence has been very much supported by technology and our access to the community in a cyber way.”

Berry said he recognized the difficulty many Southerners have coping with a traditionally controversial and value-challenging subject. He said getting those people to realize that reading tarot was not equivalent to worshipping the devil was usually the main hurdle. However, he described how nonreligious people also present their own challenges to the shop.

“At heart, I’m a scientist,” Berry said. “I’m a huge skeptic. There are many magical things I don’t put faith in. That being said I do live a ritualistic lifestyle and I do things that work for me, and that might be different from someone else. To the skeptics, I say ‘What do you have to lose? If you don’t believe in it, then open yourself up and let’s see what happens and you can decide after that.’”

Dylan Cain (Aquarius)

UNC student Dylan Cain said he believes the alternative spirituality resurgence is due to a mass shift in lifestyle and thinking in his generation.

“People are becoming much more focused on learning about themselves and experiencing their life, how they fit into things, finding out about their identities,” Cain said. “You see a lot of that, especially in the queer community, how people are constantly trying to push the boundaries that they currently apply to themselves. That burst of drive for people to explore themselves and learn to find themselves in a way that is conducive to their own happiness has also been key in the expansion of astrology.”

For Cain, astrology is a very personal spiritual medium that he was able to explore in high school due to his supportive community.

“I went to (the University of North Carolina School of the Arts) in high school and a lot of people there are part of the queer community,” Cain said. “And, a lot of them were invested in astrology. It was a space that I felt very safe exploring it in.”

Cain also views astrology as a set of loose guidelines that can be used to enhance, but not dominate one’s spirit.

“Astrology and tarot aren’t necessarily things that provide definition, but allow clarity within yourself,” Cain said. “They act as a mirror. They act as a spiritual reflection point. I try to view it as a more holistic approach that gives you optional guidance and optional clarity. You get out of it what you put into it.”

Todd Ramón Ochoa (Leo)

Todd Ramón Ochoa is an associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies at UNC. Ochoa has taught a course on astrology twice during his time at UNC, and used the class to further research the subject.

Ochoa takes an academic approach concerning astrology and seeks to answer questions regarding its persistence and popularity.

“My basic hypothesis is that the appeal is that it's unorthodox,” Ochoa said. “It’s non-dogmatic. In general, Americans are moving away from dogmatic religions. We have more 'none'-identifying people than ever before in terms of religious affiliation.”

Ochoa argues that astrology is still valued today not only for its age, but also its level of tangibility.

“One of the exciting things about astrology is that it doesn’t have to be based on direct observation, but if you’re reading your horoscope you can step outside and see some kind of relationship with the bodies that are being talked about,” Ochoa said. “They’re not like a divinity or a deity that requires some kind of suspension of disbelief to invest in.”

Ochoa, however, does not believe religion and astrology are separate entities, highlighting their close ties throughout history.

“Judaism, Christianity and Islam have all contended with astrology and in different ways and in different moments assimilated it and taken it into themselves,” Ochoa said. “It kind of travels with these major religious currents, certainly the ones that mark American religion.”

He agrees with Berry in that technology may have contributed to its continued growth among Americans, but Ochoa said he believes this generation may have a craftier attitude.

“It’s more of a maker-y, DIY generation,” Ochoa said. “('None'-identifying people) may not be so much as atheists as DIY spiritualists, and astrology is such a rich toolkit to add to your meaning-making contraption.”

Ochoa's goals in his research and teaching are simply to adjust students perspective upward, he said.

“The bottom line in my courses is just to orient students to the sky," Ochoa said. "Whether astrologically or astronomically, any given night you can look up and see Jupiter or Saturn or Mars. There’s pleasure in being able to find yourself in the sky. It’s part of the flavor that astrology continues to have.”

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