MY EARLIEST MEMORIES OF ASTROLOGY involve my teen babysitter reading our horoscopes aloud from the back of a fashion magazine and making sure we knew, based on our birthdates, which star signs would make for reliable friends and the most sensuous lovers (we were all under the age of 13 at the time).
Perhaps you have surreptitiously asked a first date when they were born as a means of sussing out your compatibility. Or you might have that friend who consults the stars before planning a big trip or scheduling a job interview. Either way, it’s hard to avoid knowing something about astrology. That being said, how one chooses to interact with it remains a complicated question.
You're not born believing in astrology; you have to learn it in order to really use it.
Astrology dates back to humankind’s earliest recorded origins — a time when our understanding of calendrical systems and celestial cycles was in its infancy. Today it’s become scrupulously chartable and meticulously mathematical, if not endlessly commercialized. It’s an ever-evolving societal mood board. Search your zodiac sign on Etsy or take a stroll through the home goods section of an Urban Outfitters — one could easily accessorize their entire body and home in all-things astrological, down to that Gemini bathmat or Libra face mask.
Astrology has been adopted by some as a practice akin to wellness — a gentle bellwether that helps us to align with the natural cycles of life. For those of us who might have only a vague understanding of how it works, or only think of it in its most cliche forms, how does one really get into it? And if you’re serious about getting more out of your star sign, where do you need to start? To answer some questions and debunk some myths, I looked no further than renowned astrologer Susan Miller. Author of 11 bestselling books on the subject, she has a devoted readership of over 17 million people who log into her website and mobile app. Miller is one of Earth’s most uniquely qualified people to speak about how astrology can change your life. She writes thousands of words on the subject every single week. “I say I write in disappearing ink, that's the problem,” Miller tells me. “Because after people read it, they want more and more.”
Is astrology a substitute for spirituality? Is it wrong to think of it in that way?
Oh. I wouldn’t think of it in that way. I remember a couple of years ago a young woman said to me, “I'm so glad I found astrology and I can dump my Jewish religion.” Now, I'm a Catholic but I said, “No, you just put a steel blade through my heart. No, no, no, no, no!” I say this: Astrology helps you time things. It helps you to find the optimal timing, and it also helps you learn about yourself and talents that you can develop, but you still have to do the work. Religion and spirituality teach you ethics and kindness to others. Astrology doesn't replace spirituality, but it should complement it. So I said to her at the time, “Listen, your family's probably horrified. So give it another dusting. Look at it again. Don’t give up on it.” I always call myself a philosopher who uses astrology to get at life’s intricacies.
I encounter a lot of young people who are getting very into yoga and intentions and gratitude, which is all fine, but I tend to be more of a practical New Yorker. You won't really hear me use those words. I say, “The new moon is when you have to act and this is the category.” Or, for example, to a Scorpio, “Oh, your career is on fire. This new moon, yesterday, sets up a whole six months of lifting and elevating you to a new status. Act now.” In many ways, it feels practical. Actionable.
I'm sure lots of people meet you and immediately want your astrological advice, but I’m guessing there are also a lot of people who now want to do what you do as well.
Well, also, no astrologer believes in astrology until she or he studies it. And people don't know that. You're not born believing in astrology; you have to learn it in order to really use it. I would see my mother staring at a piece of paper, which was my chart, and I was like, “This makes no sense.” I was the one who gave her a hard time, but she was the one who was making predictions that were coming out so perfectly that it was shocking.
For someone to really get the most out of astrology, they should first get their chart done, right?
Yes. Find your birth certificate and get not only your birth date, but time of birth. As close to the minute as possible.
Can people do their own chart?
Oh no, they should go to someone who knows what they are doing. Get a very thoughtful chart prepared. Otherwise, it's almost like trying to open a book and do brain surgery on your friend. You can't. There are so many aspects to learn about and consider. So you can't just look at one aspect. You have to look at the whole sky and that's what's hard because you haven't built the synapses in your head yet to fully understand, and you have all these details to consider. I can, but only because I've been doing this for so long. But when you're starting out, it's hard. It's all about considering all these variables in a very exact way. But the more you do it, the more you can see in it and the more you can really understand it. When I have someone’s chart, I can go backwards and forwards in time and really pinpoint certain things. I can say to you, “What happened to you when you were eight years old?” and things of that nature. Because it’s all mathematical. When people say, “Oh, do my palm. Do my tarot.” I'm like, “Oh my god, that's fortune telling. I don't do that. I do astrology and it’s taken me all these years to get good at it.”
The past couple of years have been so chaotic and challenging. And lots of people have been forced to stay at home, perhaps facing self-reflection in a way that maybe they aren’t comfortable with or aren’t used to. I wonder if this has caused a shift in how people think about things like astrology. That there's sort of an openness now like, “Well, maybe.”
Yes. Also, the internet did more for astrology than anything else. Before social media, you'd have to go to a bookstore to find a book or go to a newsstand to get an astrological magazine. And some people were embarrassed to do it. Perhaps they had people telling them, “Oh no, don't believe in that. It's all crazy.” But with the internet, it's right there. It's served up on a silver platter. And because of social media more people are talking about it, and then more people are willing to try it.
Astrology works. It really does. I think of all the times people have said to me, “There's no way I'm getting a check on the 15th.” And sure enough, in comes something that they don't expect. It's amazing how it works, but you have to be part of it. You have to participate. I keep telling people that. You can't sit in your house and wait to have Mister Wonderful come knock on your door. You have to go out there and try a little bit. I always say, “Show the universe your intent because then the universe will meet you more than halfway.” Good things will happen eventually.
Looking at all the different kinds of astrology on the internet — so many apps and astrology Instagram accounts and assorted astrology stuff that you can buy — how does the average person differentiate between all of that stuff and figure out who and what to pay attention to?
People have a third eye. By that I mean that they have a really good intuitive sense and if they're reading someone pretty regularly, if it's not coming out right or if it's not resonating with them, then they should stop.
Here's how I liken it. Let’s say that every night you watch the news, okay. And maybe some people watch the 6:30 news. Some people like channel two, some people like channel four, some people like channel seven. Why? It's all the same news. It's all coming off the wire from the same sources, but it’s just that some reporters say things in a way that you just like. It helps you make decisions in your own life and it just fits you. I love Brian Williams on MSNBC at night, the way he has his experts, his tone. And I love Rachel Maddow because she comes up with a new interpretation of things or illuminates the facts that haven't been brought out.
Even among really solid astrologers, there are differences in the way the subtle interpretations lie. For example, I had one woman working for me as a researcher and I noticed something constant in her work. One day I said, “What's up with you? You're looking at everything so negatively.” She said, “You could tell?” I'm like, “Yes. You're missing all the great aspects in these charts, all the gifts from the universe, and you're homing in on the tiny little horrible ones that are going to butterfly through your life really quickly. You're probably not even going to notice it, but yet you're fixated on them. What's happening?” And she said, “This is a really bad time for me.” And I said, “Oh, okay.” You know what it is? Sometimes it shows up like a Litmus paper. I'm happy and I also feel as a basic philosophy that when things are bad, they will always go toward good eventually. I think that also comes through in my writing and the way I read things.
You have a very intense following and your work provides a lot of guidance and emotional support for people. Is there somebody that you look to for that, or are there people that you read who provide that for you? Or are you sort of your own compass?
I did. It was my mom. My mother got me through all the grueling physical therapy I needed when I was 14. I was in the hospital a full year. In my life, I've had 40 blood transfusions. I had a metal brace up to my hip and I had crutches. I didn't look like any other teenager. I remember being in the hospital and saying, “Momma, I'm in the middle of the ocean and the waves are high and it's dark and I have no idea where land is and I don't even know how to get there.” And she goes, “I'm going to help you get there and you are going to get there. Even without me, you're going to get there.”
And eventually I did get there and get through it. I got into NYU and I graduated most likely to succeed, but it was my mother who gave me the courage because she's just like me. I looked just like her and she gave me all that optimism. She said, “Suzie, when I break you out of jail,” she was referring to the hospital, “you're going to have so many pretty dresses in the closet and you'll have shoes against the wall. And you'll say, ‘What shoes will I wear?’” This is when I still couldn’t really even walk. See, she never came in and said, “How's the pain?” She would paint a picture of what's coming. And I hung onto that. So it was my mother who inspired me so deeply, and she died in 2012. And I miss her so much to this day. They say sooner or later you get over the death. You don't really. I miss her. I do. And her cheerfulness. She was never cross. We were always happy.
I also get comfort from astrology. I would love to go through your chart and show you what each planet contributes — each is like a little gift because each one has something to teach you and a talent to give you. And you're unique. No two charts are alike because astrology is so excruciatingly mathematical. Even twins are different.
Here’s a scary question that lots of people are probably asking you: What are your thoughts and feelings about the year ahead?
Well, for a while I really didn't want to write about 2021 because I knew it was going to be kind of a replay of 2020. I’d say we're not really getting out of this until March 7, 2023, when Saturn moves out of Aquarius. But each day, there's a baby step forward. And next year has a beautiful lyrical part that you're going to like because Jupiter goes into Pisces on December 29 of this year and stays for a very long time, then goes into Aries, then comes back to Pisces. And on April 12th, there's an aspect that won't happen again in our lifetime in the same way — Jupiter will meet with Neptune in Pisces and there'll be a renaissance of the arts and it will give a template to our time.
You know how the era of the Spanish flu resulted in art deco and the flapper era and all of these things that were ultimately very beautiful? This will be like that — music and art and fashion and everything will have a theme that will be set. The die will be cast on April 12 and then, like a perfume, it will just carry through the whole year and beyond. This time will be remembered as a moment when all of us had the exact same experience, all over the world, at the same time. There will be this rippling response through literature, art, and music. We’ll look at these things and say, “Oh my gosh, I felt that exact same way.” It has been fascinating to see all the different ways people have responded to the pandemic. I was very productive. I know a lot of people vegged out on Netflix or whatever, but I just couldn’t. I figure you’re only given a certain amount of time in life. We should use it.
T. Cole Rachel Writer
T. Cole Rachel is the managing editor of Departures. A Brooklyn-based writer, editor, and teacher with over 20 years of experience working in print and digital media, his writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Interview, and the Creative Independent.
Katie Smith Illustrator
Katie Smith is an illustrator based in Glasgow who is currently studying communication design at Glasgow School of Art.