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Whether you believe in astrology or not, odds are you’ve probably flipped through the daily horoscope in the commuter paper on your way to work. Or perhaps you’re more of a monthly reader, and prefer to check out what the stars have to say about you in your favourite magazine whenever it comes in the mail.

Either way, the point is that horoscopes have long fascinated us — especially when they seem to ring true. But who makes these predictions, and what are they actually based on?

We caught up with former U.K. astrology columnist, Susannah Cavill, to get all of the dirty details on what goes into making these predictions, what they’re meant to do and how to best use them to our advantage.

Anyone can actually write these things… but it is a skill

Here’s the good news: if the stars and astrological signs have always fascinated you, you don’t need to go to a special school or astrology boot camp in order to study them. In fact, all you need is a little passion, knowledge and experience.

“I had worked at one of London’s oldest esoteric shops and right across the road was the Astrology Shop. I’d spend a lot of time with the psychics in the shop talking about astrology and… reading their books when I was on my breaks,” Cavill said. “I just picked things up over a long period of time.”

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It’s actually a very calculated process

For those thinking that horoscope writers just gaze up at the stars and write blurbs about romantic tensions and financial toils, think again. It turns out there’s a whole whack of calculations that go into making these predictions, and they’re often a lot more detailed than the final product we see in a newspaper or magazine. Personal horoscopes are also a lot more comprehensive than general ones, because there’s more information available to study… not that there isn’t a whack of information based on planetary movements alone, mind you.

“It’s a combination of looking at what the planets are up to and then working out intuitively how it’s going to affect a sensitive Piscean that week if there’s going to be a tricky full moon, or disruptive Mercury transit that will affect their day-to-day relationships,” Cavill explained. “People don’t want to know lots about the planets as much as they want to know how it’s going to affect them at work, at home, in love.”

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There are special tools required

Professional tools can be used in order to actually find out what’s going on with the planets and stars on any given day, and horoscope writers absolutely use these to their advantage. Cavill uses a slew of tools, but recommends using Solar Fire, a type of astrological software for the computer to help get you started. She also noted that Astrodienst.com is a great online resource if you don’t want to buy any specific programs or equipment and want to dabble in charts on your own.

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Your daily and weekly horoscopes are different

Depending on what kind of horoscope you’re looking for, the writer takes account of what kinds of transits are happening that day, week or month in order to best predict moods and stability of the different astrological signs. It’s really all about making connections between the movements of the planets and each sign’s temperament.

“A general chart is about finding the most important point and exploring that. A flexible Gemini isn’t going to be as confounded by that Mercury retrograde interfering with their communications as the steady Taurus, who will find it maddening,” Cavill said. “As for generalization, all people of the same sign aren’t the same, but I’ve yet to meet a Scorpio who wasn’t secretive, for instance!”

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Horoscopes aren’t meant to predict the future

Okay, so just because the paper says that you’re in argumentative territory with your spouse, or that new love is about to come into your life doesn’t mean that the stars are predicting an affair. Rather, these predictions are about helping you to better understand your moods and deal with them as situations arise. That common misconception is probably why some people tend to write these predictions off as fluff, but they can actually be a pretty helpful tool.

“Astrology is a fascinating tool for self-awareness. I don’t think anyone should be using it to rule their life, but knowing what’s going on can make you less wound up if things aren’t going your way,” Cavill explained. “Sometimes people think you can tell their future and get a bit frightened, when actually all it does is give you a temperature of what’s going on. It’s fun to know!”

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Hear, hear.

Want to know what’s going on with your stars this month? Check out your September horoscope now.

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