“What's Your Sign?”

Shortly after arriving in Brazil, one of the first questions Brazilians asked me was “What is your sign?” I made a crumpled face, because although I recognized the words they said, I did not know what they meant. I eliminated the possibility of it relating to my zodiac sign; why would someone that I just met ask me that? Yet, that is exactly what the question was referring to. Initially I thought that it was a joke. However, as it continued to happen repeatedly, I realized that Brazilians love talking about this topic.

In the United States, zodiac sign culture is different. While most people know their sign, many take horoscopes with a grain of salt, viewing those who regularly read horoscopes as overly superstitious and perhaps gullible. I am one of those who looked down upon horoscope followers, so writing this piece was not a way for me to chide Brazilians for their fascination with this area, but rather a way to express my ongoing amazement with their focus on it. During icebreaker activities in the United States, I will often say my name and the fact that I am a Capricorn. Adding the latter part functions as a joke and relaxes people, but doing the same here yields more genuine intrigue than laughter, with those interested asking if I have had my astral map done, for instance. The negative way American society views horoscopes did not prepare me for their popularity here in Brazil.

The first time I heard of an “astral map” was during freshman commencement last semester, when a Brazilian mother mentioned it. In the process of walking her to McDonough Gymnasium, we chatted in Portuguese. I learned that she moved from São Paulo to a Midwestern city and that she created astral maps for a living. Some would say that our meeting was no coincidence at all, in light of her career and the fact that peculiarly she was from the very city I wanted to study in. Nevertheless, the astral map-making industry is huge in Brazil, with people paying upwards of $50 to get their astral maps done each year. It is a good investment many say, as knowing which astrological forces will work for or against one’s favor is worth it.

Similarly, it is common to hear people reference their maps among friends, in their Instagram bios, and dating profiles. For example, on Tinder, users will often say “I’m a Leo with a rising moon in Aries and sun in Scorpio”; users with different zodiac signs will use the same format. In dating, both online and off, few people will refuse to date someone whose sign is incompatible with their own. They will, however, make comments such as, “I knew he would betray me because he’s a Pisces!” Therefore, for many Brazilians, someone’s negative actions can be attributed to his or her sign, rather than other independent factors. A place here where seeing a horoscope forecast was truly unexpected was on the metro lines. There, along with arriving train and weather information, one can find their weekly predictions, illustrating just how popular astrology is in this country.

According to one of my Brazilian flat mates, Dany, the fascination with the zodiac is actually quite new, originating two years ago. Excitedly explaining how it happened, she said, “The signs have always existed, but due to memes and horoscope pages on social media (particularly Facebook and Instagram), what was once considered a pastime of those on the left expanded to those on the right. Because social media connects people all over the country, Brazilians in every state read their horoscopes and get their maps done, so it’s not just a city thing. The exception, of course, is the older people who are not on social media.” Although it emerged two years ago as a dominant force in Brazilian society, Dany believes that “it will go out of style because those that do not like it will complain about those who like it and the people that like it will complain about those that do not...so it will go on that way in cycles until it makes a comeback.”

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