The Astrology Podcast
Transcript of Episode 299, titled:
With Chris Brennan and guest Alice Sparkly Kat
Episode originally released on April 12, 2021
Note: This is a transcript of a spoken word podcast. If possible, we encourage you to listen to the audio or video version, since they include inflections that may not translate well when written out. Our transcripts are created by human transcribers, and the text may contain errors and differences from the spoken audio. If you find any errors then please send them to us by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Transcribed by Rebecca Guerra
Transcription released July 26, 2022
Copyright © 2022 TheAstrologyPodcast.com
CHRIS BRENNAN: Hi, my name is Chris Brennan and you’re listening to The Astrology Podcast. Today is Saturday, April 10th 2021, starting at 12:47pm in Denver, Colorado, and this is the 299th episode of the show. In this episode, I’m going to be interviewing Alice Sparkly Kat about their new book titled Postcolonial Astrology. So hey Alice, welcome to the show.
ALICE SPARKLY KAT: Yeah, nice to be here. Thanks for having me. I didn’t know it was almost 300 episodes. That’s amazing.
CB: Yeah, this is 299 and the next one will be episode 300. So somehow it’s been, yeah, it’s a lot.
ASK: Wow, cool.
CB: Yeah, so thank you for joining me. You’ve been a listener of the podcast before and you have a new book coming out next month. And this is going to be, I know you’ve published other books before you’ve self published other books, but this is your first book with like a major publisher, right?
ASK: Yeah, it is. It’s coming out May 18.
CB: Cool. All right. So we’re going to talk about that a little bit today. Maybe first, since it’s your first time on the show, just introducing you to my audience. Could you tell me a little bit about your background? In astrology especially?
ASK: Yeah, my name is Ace. I go by Ace or Alice Sparkly Kat. Yeah, my background in astrology… I got into it like around 2014. And yeah, I wasn’t really on the internet so much with it until like, you know, the last couple of years. But just kind of like started doing readings for friends. It really helped me during a harder time in my life so the way that I learned about it was just kind of about caring for each other.
CB: Okay, brilliant. And I really like some of your articles. You wrote an article talking about the concept of detriment last year and reinterpreting it in the context of like modern times, and I thought that was a really well-written article and really admired what you were doing with it and the way that you were taking some of the ancient or the traditional concepts but also updating them and putting them in a more appropriate sort of modern context, in a way. So I know a lot of younger people just know you as a really brilliant writer. And in this, you tackle like a pretty large topic of applying postcolonial theory to astrology. So I thought maybe we could start there in terms of introducing that topic because this is something that was somewhat new to me and that’s why I was interested in reading your book and interviewing you about it because I didn’t have much background in postcolonial thought. So maybe we could start there by defining what postcolonial theory is and how it got started.
ASK: Sure, yeah, that sounds great. Postcolonial theory is kind of convoluted, because the name of it “postcolonial”, after-colonialism, suggests almost like, colonialism is over when we know that it’s not. So with a lot of the writers who are working within postcolonial theory, sometimes what’s happening is like, they’re living in places where like the government it’s been kind of more localized now, or it’s not like you know, for example, Hong Kong – it’s not a British colony anymore. But then, it’s still financially dependent on empire. So postcolonial theory, all it is it’s academic texts, sometimes poetry, like whatever it is, it’s kind of trying to create this space that imagines a future after colonialism.
CB: Okay. And one of the thinkers that you cited several times, and I wasn’t familiar with his work prior to this I’d seen him mentioned in some of your articles online and then a bunch of times in your book was a mid-20th century writer named Frantz Fanon. And it seemed like he was one of the founders of postcolonial theory, right?
ASK: Yeah, yeah. And I think he was a doctor. But then what happened was he became a revolutionary, he became a part of the revolution in Algiers.
CB: Okay. So he was, I think he was born in Martinique which was like a former colonial, like, colony in the Caribbean, right?
ASK: Yeah, I think so.
CB: Okay, so his first book, I think he was pretty young. He was like, 27 years old when he wrote his first book. And that seemed to contain a lot of his like, foundational principles. And that was titled Black Skin, White Masks, right?
ASK: Yeah, yeah. Yes, that book, he has Wretched of the Earth. They kind of go together because Black Skin, White Masks like it’s about his experience of race. And then Wretched of the Earth is about movement, it’s about activism.
CB: Okay. So maybe we could talk about like, for somebody that doesn’t have the background, why that is important. And for him it was a much more, it seemed like a much more visceral thing because he was still experiencing the immediate effects and after-effects of colonialism and why that was important. And he seemed to be since he was a psychiatrist, very much focused on the psychological impact that that had and the lingering psychological impact on the cultures and societies and peoples that were affected by colonialism. And that’s why this was an important concept to him because even if the rule of some of these colonial powers had ended, the after-effects of some of those things was still lingering in a very pervasive way in society, right?
ASK: Yeah, it’s an ongoing occupation that’s what colonialism is. So yeah, it’s still ongoing so I think that’s why a lot of people really love his work, is because we see ourselves in his writing. And I mean, that first book he wrote, it’s like, it’s so much from his personal experience. So there’s just moments where like, you really feel in your heart. In the second book Wretched of the Earth like that’s important, too, because he wasn’t just a theorist. He was an activist, he was really involved in struggling.
CB: Right, so it wasn’t just descriptive in terms of the negative effect that colonialism had on colonized peoples, but also it was like prescriptive in terms of what should be done about that and how people should attempt to break free of that in different ways.
ASK: Yeah, yeah. Mmhmm.
CB: One of the quotes that I found, I think it was actually from a YouTube video where I was watching different channels on postcolonialism, but one of the things that said about Fanon’s work is it said that, “existentialism argues that individuals developed by exercising their free will, seen in this like colonialism, which stifles the free will of the colonized is shown to be inherently dehumanizing”, and it seems like that focus of the dehumanizing effect of colonialism was a recurring theme that’s being identified and kind of articulated. Like how destructive that can be, even as a lingering effect, as like a main focus, right?
ASK: Yeah, that’s a huge part of the work.
CB: Okay, so I’m trying to think of if there’s anything else we should touch on just to outline what postcolonial theory is. Because it seems like this is a major topic in academia and there’s a number of other, besides Fanon, major writers like Edward Said and other authors, other influential authors that we should mention or that people should know about or look into if they want to study that as a core topic first.
ASK: Mmhmm. Yeah, I really want to amplify the work of Sylvia Wynter because she talks about astrology in her work. She talks about Greek and Roman, she calls it astronomy, but she’s really talking about astrology.
CB: Okay. Cool. So, let’s see. So when it comes to the book, over the past couple of years, I feel like I’ve heard more astrologers talking about postcolonial theory and sort of applying it to astrology and talking about what the implications are within the context of astrology. One of the main people I often hear talking about this has been Dayna Lynn Nuckolls, who is @PeoplesOracle on Twitter, but then also more recently, and more frequently you over the past year or two as well. What has been your approach or in what way have you wanted to integrate postcolonial theory into your work as an astrologer?
ASK: Yeah, because, like when I do readings, they’re mostly for people of color. So then a lot of the symbols are in Western astrology. I think they just they change so much in the readings. So like, you know, that’s why I kind of wanted to talk about with the book. And, like we were talking about, yeah, we were talking about, like, you know, what is postcolonial theory, like, how does it live? Things like that. There’s a lot of key concepts in postcolonial theory that are kind of integral to astrology, too. So like, you know, for example, like Fanon he kind of like turned this dichotomy between self and other that Hegel was talking about and he was talking about the other as a racial other. For example, with Sylvia Wynter’s book, she talks about astrology and she calls it an ethnoastronomy. So like what she says in this essay that she wrote called “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being” – which is an amazing essay – is that she looks at how the human, the idea of the human is overrepresented.
So like, you know, so much of, as you were saying, postcolonialism is about how racial others are dehumanized, but she actually flips it. She looks at how the human is represented. And she talks about it in terms of religious terms, in supernatural terms, but also humanist ones. So she doesn’t really care whether something’s religious or cultural, which I think we sometimes get bogged down with, you know, science versus religion, things like that. She’s saying, well both of these cultural categories, she calls it the “two culture divide”, she’s saying that both of these categories they actually work to represent an idea of a human. This idea of the human, it is something, and this is really important, it’s something that represses the economic struggle between the classes. So I love that word. When she talks about this difference between the human and the other, she calls it “colonial difference”. And she points it at this divide between the spirit and the flesh, which you know like, yeah, that’s fate and fortune. That’s spirit and flesh. So, yeah a lot of what we’re like just, you know, busy talking about on Astro Twitter or as astrologers it’s living in postcolonial theory.
CB: Okay, so there’s a lot of concepts that maybe we inherit from culture or that either astrology has contributed to, or that astrology has received from culture, that are things that are there that maybe we take for granted that we don’t realize are tied in with other power structures that are maybe like not so good in society that we’ve inherited sort of collectively.
ASK: Yeah, yeah, I think so.
CB: Okay. Yeah, so maybe identifying some of those things as one of the primary things that people want to do. And integrating postcolonial theory into astrology, Identify maybe some of those things that are not so good. I mean, I know, one of them has been, and I don’t know how much this is tied in with postcolonial theory, but one of them is like gender assumptions and assumptions about gender that are taken for granted or that we can see taken for granted in older astrological texts that may not be so appropriate for modern times.
ASK: Yeah, yeah. The question of gender it’s really interesting because like, you know, you know this but like the Moon it’s thought of as feminine so much. Like you know, currently, but I guess, it didn’t look like that was the case for all of its history. And so, you know, with gender and astrology, I think that there’s an assumption that, well, the older traditional texts like they’re going to be more gendered, they’re going to be a little bit more gender essentialist. They’re going to advocate for these strict gender roles more, but I didn’t find that to be the case. I found that like, gender as we know it is a modern invention and so the way that we remember it as a traditional thing, like that’s a construct of modernity actually.
CB: Right, I think you pointed out in your book, and your book ends up primarily being a treatment of the planets and an application of like postcolonial theory to an analysis of the significations and meanings of the planets in different ways and the way that that manifests in society both positively and negatively. But you pointed out how the Moon god in some ancient Mesopotamian cultures was male, or conceptualized as male, and not necessarily female so that there’s like this discrepancy in the tradition where you can’t always take it for granted that it’s one thing or the other.
ASK: Yeah, yeah. So in the book, we talked about the Moon, and then we talked about Venus, too. So there’s kind of these like different types of genders. I think we think of gender as like so totalizing, it’s a monolith, it’s like one binary but it’s actually several binaries between several different things. So with the Moon we talk about reproductive labor, which is a completely different thing than gender. Like with the chapter on Mars and Venus, we talked about how gender exists as a social category, which has nothing to do with reproduction, actually.
CB: Okay. What was the focus, or what does it have to do with, or just to explain to people that haven’t read it?
ASK: Yeah. What I found was ideas around femininity with like a lot of this… symbolic representations of Venus and Mars, something that kept coming up was war. You know, gender, I think it was [unintelligible] I don’t know how to say his name, but he wrote that gender is a war machine, it’s a machination of war. So like, how we think about like, you know, the feminine as something that’s worthy of protection and Mars as this enemy that kind of has to be protected against. Like, that’s what gender is doing. It’s making a case for war. With reproduction, it’s different because reproduction has to do with value, and reproduction it’s a type of labor. And I think that, you know, I was actually at a talk where this was talked about with just this form of parents talking to each other – of queer parents. And something that was really surprising that someone mentioned was like, whoa, like when we really come down to it, the issue with reproductive labor it’s not so much as the issue of gender but of capitalism. So, like with reproduction, I think that it functions in a really different way. Like it’s a different type of gender than femininity as something that’s like, you know, supposed to be precious or well protected, or something to be exploited. Femininity is often kind of conceived as something that should be kind of like ripe for exploitation.
CB: Right. Yeah. I mean, and that’s one of the things that you mentioned there. One of the things that I walked away from the book with was how you were trying to provide perspective by, sort of stepping outside of our own culture today and pointing out the cultural assumptions that we’re making in many cases about things by showing how some of those cultural assumptions have been different at different periods of time, or what’s underlying some of those cultural assumptions. And it seems like that was a big emphasis of this approach is stepping outside of culture and looking at it a little bit more objectively, in terms of some of the things that we’re just assuming are the case, but may not be universal truths.
ASK: Mmhmm. Yeah, because a lot of what we think about with gender is like really Western, like gender is colonial how we think about gender and like, just male and female binary is really colonial. So it’s not universal. It hasn’t been around for that long, actually. And we take it for granted a lot. But it’s also like gender is an area of play for a lot of people too. So like, you know, I’m not really saying, “Well, don’t use Venus”, you know, “don’t talk about femininity”, that’s not really it. I think that when we use femininity, or Venus, like, for our own self-expression it does a different thing than when it’s administered by power.
CB: What do you mean by that? Administered by power?
ASK: If we think about the images that we’re just constantly creating and circulating around what femininity feels like, what it looks like, how it’s experienced, like a lot of our ideas around, for example, like beauty. I mean, it kind of comes from power, but then like, you know, the question is like, what does it mean when we practice it? For example, like it’s a really different experience to hear a queer person talk about femininity than it is to hear a cishet person talking about it. So yeah, you know, I’m not saying like, “Oh, you know, don’t use these terms. Don’t use Venus.” Like it’s not anti any kind of thing. It’s more about like, well, yeah, how do we actually use astrology as a language in a way where we’re practicing care and we’re practicing what people need.
CB: Right. Yeah, I mean, well, that’s one of the major changes that I’ve seen in the astrological community over the past decade and even over the past five years is that you know, I talked about this in recent episodes where in the mid-2000s, I found an old article by Noel Till where he said that there’s no young astrologers coming into the field and that all of the baby boomer generation, which was the last big influx in the 1960s in the West, of the hippies and the “counterculture”. They were all like in their 40s and 50s and were getting really old and they weren’t seeing newer astrologers coming into the field and it seemed like the field was dying. And then all of a sudden, in the past 10 years, there’s been this huge influx of new people into the astrological community and a new generation coming in. And now it’s starting to take over. One of the things that’s really notable about that is the previous generation of astrologers and just my, as a young astrologer in my 20s, you know, 15 years ago during that time, where I didn’t see other young contemporaries is the field wasn’t as diverse and all of a sudden there’s been the field has become much more diverse over the course of the past 10 years. And the type of astrologies that they’re inheriting, you know, are not necessarily set up with that in mind because they were being written largely by the more I don’t know if the right term is like monocultural, but from a certain perspective, and yeah.That seems like one of the things that’s being addressed now is, you know, is the astrology, how to adapt astrology, you know, to that in modern times and to the needs of people that are using it in the early 2020s.
ASK: Right, yeah. Which, like, yeah, I mean astrology it’s a language so that it always changes, always changes throughout practice. Like there’s no original form of language, that never exists.
CB: Right that was one of your talks last summer was you wrote, “If astrology is the language, whose language is it?” What was your like, what was the meaning behind that?
ASK: Yeah, that was a really important question for me. And it still is because, you know, as a person, I feel like I don’t have any cultural ownership. I don’t really have like, a sense of ownership over Western culture. And I also don’t really have a sense of ownership over Chinese culture. So like, you know, this idea of like, who does the language belong to that was a really motivating question for me for a long time. And, yeah, I mean, the kind of point where I’m at right now with language is just like, well, language, like the root of the word translation — I don’t know if this is true or if it’s something that’s just like kind of passed around — The root of the word translation is treason. So language is treacherous. It doesn’t like, you know, it doesn’t belong to anyone. It only exists in its circulation. So like, you know, that’s why I’m so into treating astrology as a language, not as a religion or an institution, but as a language that, like, it’s only going to stay alive if we continue to practice it. And if we continue to practice it, it’ll continue to change. And I mean, you know, change is life. And then you know, like this idea of like, whose language is it? It’s so funny to kind of like, see just how we describe our places in the world, which I feel like that’s what astrology is. It’s kind of pinpointing our place in the universe as something that is sometimes administered by states because like a lot of astrology it’s associated with certain states. Like, for example, you know, Chinese astrology, there is no Chinese astrology. There’s an astrology that works in a certain calendar because of the Chinese Empire. But the idea of what Chinese astrology is, is as convoluted as the idea of modern China and I think that like, that’s kind of the lens I applied to Western astrology with this book, too.
CB: Right, that makes sense. And that raises up other questions like “What is Western astrology?” that I wanted to talk about, but also, just to step back a moment to that previous point about how the astrological community is changing is that one of the things that’s changing, and that your book demonstrates, is that’s also changing is publishing where, you know, when I got into the fields around like 1999 or 2000, I could go to a bookstore – It was really great local bookstore here in Denver called Tattered Cover – that had like a whole bookcase full of astrology books, and I sort of looked through and I got my start with some of those books at the time, but over the next decade or two I watched the bookshelves, the astrology sections in bookstores shrink and shrink and shrink, which is, you know, partially an effect of just the what was happening to the publishing industry in general with the rise of the Internet and, you know, large chain bookstores sometimes, like Borders, going out of business and having to compete with Amazon or things like that. But it was also part of that decline of that previous generation that was so into astrology starting in the 1960s and the sort of decline of that. And so major publishers just sort of stopped publishing astrology books and the major, both in terms of like major publishers as well as even astrological publishers, were publishing less and less and less. And it was really bad around the middle part of the last decade, like in 2015 timeframe. And now all of a sudden, what’s been interesting is it started to turn around and you’ve seen kind of like a slew of new astrology books being published by major publishers. But one of the things that’s changed is the audiences that they’re catering to and the type of astrologers that are publishing book deals like there’s Chani Nicholas’s book, which came out I think last year, Mecca Woods’s book and then now, your book. So again, it’s just like raising this point about how astrology is coming back. But like, who is talking about astrology and the audiences that it’s catering to is different than it was like 10 or 15 years ago, as a really interesting point that’s maybe hard to look at now. We just like take it for granted, you know, now that that should be the case but it just wasn’t like 10 or 15 years ago.
ASK: Yeah, totally. I think like I found a goodreads, like list of something. It was like all the astrology books written by people of color. And at the time of like, whoever made that list, there were only 11. So I know that there’s under 20 now even but like it’s kind of funny because like if you go on like, you know, lesbian Tinder like every post everyone’s like, you know, I’m a Gemini rising like looking for whatever sign so it’s like, it’s so queer. I feel like astrology has been kind of part of this feminist movement for a long time. Like it was really part of like that zine culture in the 80s. Eventually, that was kind of like co-opted by a major magazines, but like I feel like it’s kind of living as this feminist practice, which is queer, which is not white, like kind of today, which is really exciting to get into.
CB: Yeah, I mean, just because there weren’t a lot of books, either by queer authors or that explicitly addressed things from that perspective, or that had like an astrologer that openly advocated for like same-sex relationships or something like that didn’t exist as much prior to a decade or two ago and if you read books from like, the 1970s, about what they say about like queer relationships or other things like that, it’s obviously coming more from a heterosexual standpoint, and illustrates in sort of importance of why it’s important for people to be able to speak from different perspectives because to the extent that astrology is an extension of culture, if there’s only one part of the culture that’s like talking about it or providing the books or the language for that, then it’s not actually as inclusive or comprehensive of the culture as it should be.
ASK: Yeah, totally. Yeah. And there’s like these ideas around what traditional astrologers kinda look like, too, I found. There’s, I feel like there’s this like idea of like, you know, it’s like this white chad, but that’s not the case. There’s like so many people who practice traditional astrology and they’re all doing it in really different ways and interesting ways.
CB: Yeah, last year, for example, there were debates about because there’s sometimes debates that come up about that about, like the dignity scheme and the appropriateness of the essential dignities. And whether this is a system that’s based on something older and oppressive and no longer appropriate or then there were responses to that last year with for example, some of the #diginitybabes that was arguing that these are appropriate distinctions to make that had been used by astrologers that are queer or coming from different perspectives in way that that’s like appropriate or healing and effective from a technical as well as a conceptual or philosophical perspective. So it’s been interesting, for me, seeing some of those debates happening over the past few years.
ASK: Yeah. And I would also say like, I think that’s part of the book too. I would also say like, if a language talks about oppression then there’s a difference between an oppressor using that language and an oppressed person using that language. Because language is like they’re supposed to describe oppression, that’s what they’re supposed to be doing. So if we’re talking about gender and astrology, I’m like, “Yeah, let’s have a lot of terms to talk about it.” Like we should be talking about it. Like, there’s kind of, I feel like sometimes there’s this kind of flinching of like, oh, well, gender is so oppressive, so let’s stay away from it. Let’s de-gender everything. But like, you know, then you’re just kind of like jumping over real experienced oppression.
CB: Yeah, that’s a major debate that’s been happening that I’ve seen bubbling up and is trying to become more and more prominent about the inherited distinctions between gender and binaries in astrology that come from the earlier part of the astrological tradition and whether those should be rejected because there are people that are non-binary or not gendered, or whether they should be retained in order to be able to talk about gender at all and address that even in a non-binary context. And it seems like there’s different people that have different perspectives. So your perspective is that you come out or come down on the side of more wanting to retain that because it gives you the ability to talk about gender in a way that you might not be able to otherwise?
ASK: Yeah, it gives you a language and it gives you some communication. You know, there’s a reason why we use Venus, instead of using like gender for example. Part of that is because then there’s more play involved. Like non-binary people talk about gender all the time because we have to think about it all the time. Like gender, it’s not really just so much about like aesthetics or clothing. It’s about like, you know, how comfortable are we at our jobs? Like, it’s about every kind of fact of existence, too. So like, yeah, you know, of course, there should be a way to talk about gender and that’s my perspective.
CB: Okay, so that kind of brings up, I mean in like academia, in the early 20th century, they started studying ancient astrology as this oddity. But one of the arguments that the scholars made in defensive studying ancient astrology, even though they didn’t believe it was true, was that they said astrology in different time periods is a reflection of the culture of its time. And therefore if you go back and study ancient astrology, what you’re actually doing is you’re studying, getting an inside look at different cultures and what the cultural assumptions are that they’re making by seeing how the astrologers interpret birth charts and things like that because they’re talking about people’s lives, and presumably, providing and using a language that accurately describes what they think about the world in some sense. So it seems like that’s part of what’s going on here in terms of adapting modern astrology in the language of astrology or contemporary astrology to the contemporary world so that it addresses those things that are important to the people that are using it, but also, when you’re seeing clients so that you have a language to use with your clients who are coming from a wide variety of different backgrounds.
ASK: Yeah. You know, like I always say to clients, this isn’t what’s like kind of doing the healing in a session, what’s doing the healing is yourself. So you know, this language like you can use it however you want, like there’s no wrong way to use it.
CB: Right. That was something that was a question I had in the book, the extent to which with astrology in the way that you’re characterizing it, whether, well, maybe that’s too big of a topic to get into about. Yeah, what astrology is doing and whether it’s like a phenomenon that’s occurring in nature, or whether it’s primarily a language that’s being used amongst people socially, and I wasn’t sure if I got a full sense of what your answer to that question because one of the things you actually say explicitly in the book at one point is that you feel like in the process of writing the book, oftentimes, you were raising more questions than you were answering and for you, the process of writing was more asking the questions rather than necessarily answering them it seems like. Right?
ASK: Yeah. Because like, I’ve been doing astrology workshops, like, you know, consultations and community for years and the questions that always come up, they can’t really be answered. And the questions that come up are like, basically, if Western astrology if it’s not universal, if it is specifically Western, then how does it work? Like, rather you know, like, what is it doing? You know, how is the work being done? And then another question, because like a lot of like, with Tropical astrology, it’s climate based, so then it’s talking about geography too. So it’s like, you know, what about the global south? Like, what about like climates that are not similar to Rome? What about that question? And then like climate change? Climate change always comes up as a question too with Tropical astrology. So like, you know, we can’t really answer these questions. Yeah, I’m really interested in just kind of like asking as many questions as possible. That question I think you asked about, like, you know, is astrology is it like basically the power of belief like, is it a social construct? Or is there some supernatural component to it? I think both exist at the same time. So that question, it doesn’t really bother me. Like, I think that astrology is a social construct, but I think that there is something really mystical about imagination. So yeah, you know, that’s kind of like where I’m at with the things I believe.
CB: One of the things you mentioned really quickly there that might be good to talk about is “is Western astrology universal?”, and you take the position that it’s not necessarily. Could you expand on that more or what you mean by that?
ASK: Yeah, for sure. First off, like to kind of define Western astrology or how I see it, is that the West, it’s not really like, like a fact of the thing. The West is a certain perspective. The West is like most of the materials that make up the West and most of the labor that is being done to create the West, that is actually non-western. Like, for example, like in her book, what’s it called, The Intimacies of Four Continents, like Lisa Lowe talks about the English tea ceremony, and this is like, you know, it’s so culturally English and so Western, it’s like, part of Western culture, but then she looks at the materials that make up the ceremony. She’s like, well, you know, the wood that’s from the West Indies, tea is from India and China. The cotton making up the dresses, the people doing the ceremony, like that’s from the Americas, like a lot of the materials it’s not Western. So the Western, it’s a certain way of organizing things. It’s a certain way of looking at the world. And so like with Western astrology, like, I know that Rome, it’s like, yeah no Roman walked around in like, 2000 AD and was like, “I’m a Westerner”. Like Rome is not in the West, but it’s remembered as being the Root of the West. So it’s remembered as Western. I think you mentioned like there’s this idea that, like, if we look at information from astrology, birth charts from kind of like back in time, we can understand the cultural context that was performed in. Yeah, I have questions around that. And maybe that’s just like my own thing, but I think that we can’t really figure out the cultural context that a lot of these older things were performed in. I think that we can only understand more about how these things that survive are remembered and recirculated.
CB: Okay. Yeah, I mean part of it. So that was a great example of it. I think the English tea ceremony and how the point there is just that it’s actually a component of, you know, different things from different cultures that have been adapted and now that that we now perceive in retrospect as a uniquely English or Western thing, but it’s not necessarily if you deconstruct it and break it down into some of its primary components. And that’s a similar process that you went through with the book where you sort of deconstructed Western astrology and some of the core language of Western astrology through the planets and some of their traditional significations in order to get to a similar thing, in terms of looking at where some of those different components that we use in the language of astrology came from. And it seems like that was, I want to say, from my perspective, as a reader, like one of the main purposes of the book, and you even labeled each chapter like the etymology of certain planets.
ASK: Yeah, yeah, that’s the kind of breakdown of it
CB: Okay. So, the purpose of that then, and the focus then in talking about Western astrology, is it seemed like sometimes there’s a tension. There’s a tension that comes up between, and I see this, this is already something I see in the community, and looking at Astrology Twitter and the discussions around applying postcolonial theory to astrology, is a tension between wanting to embrace astrology versus sometimes to the extent that astrology is seen as tied in with colonialism, wanting to reject it or reject parts of it, because of that perceived connection with colonialism. And that being sort of a tension in the dialogue that’s happening today surrounding astrology and postcolonial thought.
ASK: Totally. And that’s not unique to astrology. You see that with art, with literature, with everything.
CB: So maybe let’s expand on that. Because that’s that’s definitely one of my central things that I was curious about. Especially going into your book is how that would be addressed and like where you come down on that? And it seems like it’s it’s complicated, basically. Right? That’s the answer is it’s complicated.
ASK: It’s really complicated and a lot of the emotions around it, a lot of the emotions around like, you know just what have I inherited from my ancestors that still lives in me like, this kind of thing. It’s like, you can’t really like answer those emotions without being able to shift the reality. And the thing with is like, you know, colonialism, it’s an ongoing project. So a lot of the issues that we’re responding to emotionally with astrology, like they can’t be solved on our own. So I think that like, you know, that tension that you’re talking about with, well, you know, how do I change the culture that produced me basically. That tension, it can’t really be resolved until we see how change happens.
CB: Okay, in terms of though, like one of the tensions then when it comes to ancient astrology is, and one of the things that you do, for example, in looking at things like Hellenistic astrology is there’s a tension between treating Western astrology as a singular product that the Roman world and an impulse to reject it then to the extent that then Western Astrology is associated with Roman imperialism versus this other perspective, which is that you acknowledge several times in the book, which is acknowledging that there’s many different cultures and languages that contributed to astrology over time. And it sets up that basic tension there in terms of whether this is something to be rejected or something to be almost embraced in some sense.
ASK: Yeah, like what to embrace, what to reject. I feel like those are always like just kind of good questions to have. And the question, it’s not really whether astrology like originated in Rome. It’s like, there’s so many different types of Rome that continue to exist, so many different memories of what Rome is, whether that’s in our military or government, or like whatever it is. Because like the reason why the point isn’t that like “well, astrology it’s Roman so then it has to be rejected” is because a lot of the times when astrology is being cited it’s cited as not being Roman. Like a lot of people in Rome, they were like going to Egypt. And then a lot of people in the British Empire, they were going to their colonies in India and saying that they learned a lot about astrology there. But again, like you know, the materials that create the West they’re not Western in origin, but they’re Western in perspective, they’re Western how we remember them. Like the book, it’s not saying, “Well, yeah, astrology it’s Roman so that’s Western” because we use the Senate, because the United States, we have a Senate, which was Roman, we have a Roman idea about the military, like, you know, you can join the military and get these privileges. Like the Romans they use the military to kind of like, like, get people who are enslaved to become citizens. So like, you know, a lot of like art institutions they look Roman, but they’re just remembered that way. So the West, it’s not really like a historical thing. It’s kind of like a collage. It’s really ahistorical.
CB: One of the points that you made in the book was that at different periods in history of the past 2,000 years, there’s been like classical revivals in culture where people have gone back and then tried to emulate the Romans or emulate what they thought the Romans were doing at different points in society, and that’s led to different like outcomes in our history over the past 2,000 years.
ASK: Yeah, like with the French Revolution. I think it was Marx who said well, they were like, kind of wearing togas. They were trying to like, play as Romans. With, I mean more recent history, Trump was really into neoclassical architecture. He actually wanted to make a bill where all the buildings that we create are, I guess government-built, that they have to be neoclassical in style. So I think that when white supremacy feels like it’s under threat, what often happens is that there is this resurgence of neoclassical styles, aesthetics, things like that. And what a lot of times happens, and this happened between the two World Wars, when there was that huge, like fascist movement within Europe. What happened was like astrology became really big. And, like, you know, the astrologers they weren’t always right-wing, like kind of extremists. They were actually like, kind of, like persecuted sometimes. But like these things, they kind of tend to coincide. So like, I don’t know, like, I don’t know why, but I find it interesting. It’s like well, we do have this like really strong right-wing, you know, backlash, revival, whatever you want to call it. And astrology is like really popular now, but then it’s not being practiced by right-wing people.
CB: Yeah, although you made the point that sometimes it is used by people in power, like you said, at JP Morgan or Ronald Reagan, for example, the 1980s and different situations like that, where it is being used by those with power in some instances.
ASK: Yeah, Hitler had an astrologer.
CB: That was one point that I wasn’t sure about because I’ve been trying to research like, what the Nazis if that what their relation was to astrology, and it was complicated because they did throw a lot of astrologers in concentration camps in the 1940s. And I’m still trying to understand what exactly happened in World War Two and I’m not sure what Hitler’s relationship was with astrology. We know what some of his lieutenants were. But that was one thing I was a little unsure about in terms of that statement at one point.
ASK: I have a book by like an astrologer who claims that he was forced to work for the Nazis. But like, you know, I guess I looked into this book and it’s like, contested because it looks like this guy might have been like writing it as like kind of a claim to fame or something like that.
CB: Yeah, there’s this astrologer named Lewis Dewald that wrote a book afterwards and he said he was like pressured into doing it, but it’s not really clear whether he was doing it of his own free will or what. And there was a very famous story about astrology where one of Hitler’s lieutenants flew to Britain under like a conjunction of planets in Taurus, a stellium, and attempted to make a peace deal because he thought it was an auspicious astrological indication for making peace with Britain. And then as soon as Hitler heard about this, they rounded up all the astrologers and threw them in concentration camps. And so that’s one of the complicated relation things about the issues with the extent to which some of the Nazis were using astrology or using it for propaganda purposes versus actually, you know, many astrologers died as a result of that, including some famous ones so I just wanted to be a little careful about that. Because, yeah, sometimes people in power do use astrology, but in terms of linking it specifically with Nazism, or saying Hitler used or even believed in it, it’s not really that clear.
ASK: For sure. Yeah. I think that we see that from people in power lies like, well, you know, this, like this thing, the style, this aesthetic, it’s being used for propaganda purposes, but then the people who kind of practice that or where it came from, like are marginalized, oppressed.
CB: Yeah, that so that was a major focus. And that’s part of the subtitle of the book was reading the planets through capital, power and labor, and notions of power were one of the main things that you focused on and that’s a good… like, right away in one of the first chapters with the Sun. You really focused on things like how like monarchies or like a king would have power is not through I think you said like dictatorial or authoritarian executions of power, but through attracting like revolving spheres of power like around them that like radiated down or outwards. Or something like that. It was like very interesting imagery in terms of how you’re describing this within the context of the Sun and the way that power sometimes works when it comes to dynamics with the Sun.
ASK: Yeah, I think that like, you know, like, yeah, this is just like kind of a more recent study of the Sun god. Like Louis, I can’t remember what number it is, Louis the 15th or something?
CB: Might have been. Sure.
ASK: Yeah something like that. The guy who built Versailles and yeah, a lot of the people around him, they were invested in him having power because then they could have prestige. So yeah, like power, it doesn’t work in a top down way always. It always works in a way where people who are under power also produce it.
CB: Yeah, and I thought that was a really interesting and brilliant discussion and that provided a very interesting insight into what you’re trying to do with the book in taking and applying some modern sort of like political theories and explaining them in the context of this language of astrology and things like the meaning and traditional understanding of the Sun but giving a different perspective on it in that way. So I don’t know if we can expand on that any more but how that works in terms of hierarchies of power sort of is what you went into with that and how that’s relevant in other areas as well.
ASK: Yeah, because with the Sun we’re talking about light, we’re talking about sight, we’re talking about gold. And with light and sight we’re talking about surveillance actually, with gold with these centers of power we’re talking about capital. So then we’re looking at what like, you know what makes a capital, what does a capital really do? And with surveillance we’re looking at like whoa, like, you know, this is something that we did in Fresh Voices. We talked about the Sun, we talked about surveillance, and then we looked at like, when we are actually in control of the light conditions that we’re visible under, like, you know, whether we’re able to have control over lighting at our jobs. You know, some people are and then some people are not. And so like we talked about, we did some journaling just about how our bodies feel when we are not in control of the lighting. We did some journaling about how our bodies feel when we are in control of the lighting. But like lighting, it’s such a power relation, because like, you know, kids, they can’t really control lighting, incarcerated people are not allowed to control lighting. If you go into a store, you’re not in control of the light. If you go into public space, you’re not in control of the light. We’re only in control of the light in our private homes.
CB: Right and you also talked about historically how things changed with the advent of like electrical lighting and the ability to light spaces that previously couldn’t be lit or to light them artificially using artificial light.
ASK: Yeah, yeah, electric and also gas lights. Gas lights were used for a long time before electric lights. But like, you know, one of the things that Napoleon did after the French Revolution is like he opened up the streets, he made them a lot wider, and he lit them with artificial lights. He opened up these big plazas lit with artificial lights, and he did that because then like people can’t really create a barricade again people can’t really gather without being seen.
CB: Okay, right. So surveillance and power and also capital like one of the things that you focused on in the gold in the book that’s a recurring theme but especially in the Sun section was the traditional associations of the Sun with gold and like, the question of like, what gold is and what’s behind the meaning or the power, the capital that it represents.
ASK: Yeah, gold in terms of like the idea of gold, but also like the actual substance because most of the gold that we have is from South Africa. And it’s buried in underground vaults under the banks in London and New York. So like, there wasn’t a whole lot of gold until around like 1930s or something like that. And suddenly there’s a lot of gold coming from South Africa. Basically, it like comes out and then it’s like circulating for a little while as like gifts, and then it gets buried again. So now all that gold is it’s buried again, just in a different part of the world. And gold as an idea, too, because like gold has to do with race. There’s this idea of like gold that’s royalty, that’s the ruling class. There’s the Golden Age. There’s the golden race, which is like, you know, eventually like eroded it becomes the silver race, the bronze race. So it’s like kind of how we think about, like, the future and then utopia, too.
CB: Yeah, one of the things you focused on in the Sun chapter as well as the Saturn chapter, were ideas of either looking back to like an idealized golden age in the past or conversely, like looking forward to some idealized point in the future.
ASK: Because like both exist with Hesiod and Virgo, I don’t know if I’m saying his name right, but they’re talking about these golden ages and Hesiod like he’s kind of a pessimist and he’s saying like, well, the Golden Age like that’s way in the past we’ll never have that again. But then Virgo like he’s saying, well, there will be another Golden Age in the future and it’ll come with this like Apollo-like child king.
CB: Right. And just some of the ways that those idealized frameworks influence things and that of course comes up. You know, also in astrology and recently, over the past decade, there’s been this revival of traditional astrology and this looking back and sort of idealizing the past as astrologers recover parts of their tradition that they didn’t really have any access to in previous generations. And there’s some similar discussions that come up then in terms of idealizations of either the past or the future or what have you.
ASK: Yeah, the past it’s always idealized whether that’s because it’s like, oh, Roman that’s like the backbone of Western society or it’s like, oh, these non-white cultures, they’re kind of like our ancestors. And then there’s this weird thing that happens where non-white people are seen to be like culturally older than white people. So yeah, just kind of idealizing the passage of time. But I think that’s what astrology is talking about, like when we practice astrology we’re kind of working with time, too.
CB: Right. Yeah, definitely, working with time. And you had some phrase about that in the book, about the temporal-like nature of astrology or something like that.
ASK: Yeah, because like basically what astrology is, it’s like a proposal for how we structure time. And, and so like, you know, thinking about how our images or associations about how time is thought of like even within the practice of astrology. Like that’s super important.
CB: Right, definitely. So in terms of like, one of the things we’re going to talk about was tradition versus modernity and the supposed opposition between the two, and ideas about how those work together in order to create our conception of the West. One of the things like I wasn’t sure going into and I felt like you went a little bit. I was curious how you conceptualize your own role as an astrologer or your own background and technical influence or what “tradition” that you represent. I felt like in some places you went harder against, like, traditional or Roman or Hellenistic astrology than I expected. And I was curious, like, what, not what the goal is, but how you conceptualize your own background in astrology.
ASK: I don’t know. Yeah, that’s something that’s always changing. Like, you know, my influences. I mean, you, Demetra George, Sam Reynolds. Yeah, I mean, like, I’m a Mercury in Pisces, so everyone kind of influences me, like, even if they disagree with each other, too. But in terms of how I practice astrology, I see it as a form of care work again. So like, if, for example, if I have a client who’s like, you know, I really want to use an asteroid. Like, I’ll never say no to that. Like, yeah, you know, if it works for you for talking about something then let’s use it. It’s just like, it’s so important to me that astrology is whatever it is you need it to be. And I know that like that’s maybe a little bit different than you? I don’t know.
CB: I mean, to a certain extent, I always have a tension between that as well as the tension between my modern versus traditional tendencies. And, you know, I wrote a book on Hellenistic astrology, it took me 10 years but at the very end of it, I tried to be very deliberate about saying I don’t want this to be used as a basis for traditional fundamentalism. And then one of the last things I said in the book was just that astrology has never been static. It’s always been growing and changing in different ways. And it’s never been the singular like fixed thing, because I worried that sometimes when people look back into the past, they can have a tendency to, as you talked about in your book, like, idealize it, and think that astrology in ancient times was perfect and that astrology in modern times has devolved somehow or has become decrepit or something like that. But what’s funny is like astrologers, in almost every age, always have that tendency. Even in the second century, for example, Valens had that tendency where even though we look back at the second century and we think about that as being the high point of the practice of Hellenistic astrology with both Valens and Ptolemy living in Alexandria in the second century and that’s where most of the horoscopes survived from. If you look at Valens, he looked back to this past where he thought there was an idealized period where like Nechepso and Petosiris were a king that ruled over Egypt and practiced astrology during some sort of golden age and so he looked back and idealized that himself. So there’s always that tendency no matter what, and I wanted to be careful not to set up a premise for some sort of fundamentalism in modern times.
ASK: Yeah, I think that we’re definitely in agreement about like, you know, not wanting to idealize like, this perfect idea of the past. With the tradition and modern thing, like a lot of like, what we mean when we say traditional gender ideas, for example, is like we’re talking about modern gender ideas. Ideas around gender, like they’re being produced constantly by capitalism, and that’s an ongoing thing. So it’s not something that we inherit from any tradition because like, I feel like that happens when we idealize the past, too, is sometimes we villainize the past as the only place where oppression exists. But it exists in the present, too. That’s the whole thing with tradition and modernity is that like the two, they’re not really that different. They’re both about progress, the idea that something is traditional is about progress, the idea that something is moderate is about progress, and progress is just one way of keeping track of time.
CB: Okay, I guess that was one question I had from the book was to what extent do you want the book to be seen or interpreted as a rejection of the tradition, a rejection of older ways, versus more of a critique or an analysis of it in order to gain perspective on it in some sense?
ASK: I mean, I feel like we can’t really change tradition because it got us to be where we are right now. So yeah, I’m very, I’m uninterested in what people are actually doing in like, you know, 200 AD actually. That’s why I would never call myself a traditional astrologer. I really respect people who do and I think that I’m interested in the present. I’m interested in changing the present. So it’s not like you know, reject traditional astrology, reject modern astrology. It’s look at what is circulating and here’s some things that you can use astrology to talk about in your practice, and these are ongoing problems, these are problems that shape your existence, they’re problems that shape your experiences, they’re problems that shape your communities. So like astrology, it’s such an important tool for healing because it is able to talk about these things.
CB: Right. And it’s the extent to which you can talk about those things that can be healing, and that’s what you seem to want to bring into it. And you still use some traditional technical concepts, like for example, like you did a Twitter thread the other day on the exaltations and interpreting those in the modern context, I think right?
ASK: Yeah, yeah. I use traditional concepts like rulership, exaltations. I think it’s a fantastic way to talk about visibility. I mean, yeah, I like Confucius. Like that’s a traditional concept. He’s really asking for social accountability.
CB: One of the questions was, I don’t know where I put it, but one of the questions I’ve been thinking about a lot myself over the past year was, to what extent can astrology be apolitical versus to what extent is one’s politics naturally going to show up in one’s astrology and how much is that actually a good thing or an important thing? It seems like for you that integrating your politics and your worldview is actually an important thing and plays a crucial role in your astrology that you’re very like forward about, but also think is crucial to your actual practice in some ways, right?
ASK: Yeah, I don’t think anything can be apolitical. So I don’t think astrology can be apolitical either.
CB: Yeah, let’s expand on that because that’s probably true. And it’s something I see that comes up in the communities even sometimes when astrologers think that they’re being apolitical about, let’s say, talking about a recent event. Sometimes it’s like a blind spot for them and they don’t realize to the extent to which their political views are actually influencing their interpretation of the astrology.
ASK: Yeah, I think you’re aware of your political position or you’re not. I mean, oftentimes, this isn’t true a hundred percent of the case but you’re going to be more made aware of your political position if you are oppressed, and you’re not going to be so aware of it if you are the oppressor. And yet, you know, it’s not like people are divided into these different categories. It’s like, I’m not aware of the political realities of the positions when I’m the oppressor.
CB: Right. Yeah. Like when you’re the one in power or you have the upper hand, it’s something that you’re taking as the natural or as a given because it’s not uncomfortable to you. It’s a place of comfort, and therefore it’s harder to stand outside of that. Whereas, if something’s actually creating discomfort for you and your consciousness, it’s much easier to identify that as coming from somebody’s like political perspective or their, I’m trying to think of the word of that I did an episode with Diana Rose Harper on last year, your privilege, like when you have that it’s easier to take it for granted.
ASK: Yeah. For example, like stairs. Stairs are political. I don’t experience them as political because I’m able-bodied. I can go up and down stairs, but they are.
CB: Right. Like if you were in a wheelchair and you came up to a flight of stairs, and all of a sudden it’s not something you’re taking for granted, but it’s an actual like obstacle in your life.
ASK: And then like, how many stairs there are, where there are stairs, then that becomes a political issue.
CB: Right. So it’s not… or it might be something where other people treat that as a political issue, but for you it actually has a tangible impact on your life that is not purely political, because it’s personal in a sense. So the political, being personal, makes it not just like an abstract concept of politics, but something that has a immediate impact on your life. Okay, so that’s like a recurring theme throughout the book in terms of why for you it’s important to be very open about what your political views are and to integrate them into astrology because of that really personal role that politics plays, especially for people that are not in positions of power.
ASK: I think so, yeah.
CB: Okay. One of the points that you brought up about that I thought that was really interesting and good in the context of astrology also that kind of ties into that was you mentioned Ptolemy and Ptolemy’s like some of his geographical rationalizations talking about different parts of the earth and different astrological influences or signatures they were supposedly under. But he was framing that relative to Alexandria where he lived as the like, neutral starting point that didn’t have any specific description necessarily. It was like everywhere else was being measured relative to that, but his location itself was neutral somehow.
ASK: Mmhmm. Yeah. So in that case, like he’s talking about how because well, he’s in the northern hemisphere. And so like, you know, the Sun travels closer to the equator so he’s saying, well, people living kind of southern to him that they are like hot in this position — Sorry, let me mute that chat, too. Okay, sorry I don’t usually get texts, but except for my birthday.
CB: Right. Happy solar return, by the way.
ASK: Oh, yeah. Today’s my birthday.
CB: Yeah, so we scheduled it for this. So you’re an Aries and you said with the Mercury in Pisces?
ASK: I’m an Aries with Mercury and Mars in Pisces and yeah, I’m an Aquarius Rising.
CB: Oh, nice. Fellow Aquarius Rising. Do you share your — that would be a degression, I was going to say do you share your chart, but maybe let’s finish the present thought.
ASK: Oh, right. Yeah. What were we talking about?
CB: Ptolemy and his relativism about geographical location in Alexandria.
ASK: So when Ptolemy. He’s writing about what he calls particular astrological concerns. He’s living in the northern hemisphere, so then the Sun is like, it’s moving closer to the equator it’s hotter, like South of him. He’s saying, well, people who live like in the southern regions, they’re hot in disposition and he’s comparing that with the Sun. He’s talking about like the Moon’s phases and like, the east and west thing, too. And he’s saying well, people have like particular cultural differences because of these astrological things. But then, like he’s totally ignoring his own, like center region. He’s just assuming like, he has no characteristics or something.
ASK: Yeah, that’s kind of like, that’s one of the questions that I think that people ask a lot is, well, this cosmology that was kind of like, well, it’s at least like thought of as being originating in Rome, it’s here in the United States as a settler cosmology. Like it doesn’t really describe like, Capricorn seasons being really cold and sad like, that’s not true in like, Australia. But like, somehow, like the idea of like, when the Sun is in Capricorn this is what kind of happens. It’s still being practiced.
CB: Right. So just that there’s sometimes like cultural assumptions going into it based on where it was practiced or the cultures that contributed to it. And then astrology always has that relative stance, almost universally. It’s almost like one of the core things that’s if there is a recurring thing throughout the astrological tradition like that relative take always seems to be it and that’s something you contrast with the conceptualization that astrology is universal, which you point out is not necessarily true or you don’t necessarily think it’s true.
ASK: Yeah, there’s no such thing as a universal astrology because there’s no such thing as a universal experience.
CB: Okay. All right. So what were some of the other topics that we wanted to touch on that we had written notes on just as discussion topics for postcolonial astrology and postcolonial theory in modern times and how that relates to the practice of contemporary astrology? I know you pointed out one, actually, what I thought was a compelling example with Alan Leo and some of his views about like going to India, which is during the period of still British colonial rule over India, and him being influenced especially by views of karma and reincarnation, and then incorporating that into his astrology in some way. And that was something that you kind of objected to, in a sense that that was something that was clearly happening in the context of to a certain extent of colonialism.
ASK: Yeah, I think there’s this writer Jay Iwabuchi, Jay Naomi Iwabuchi, who talks about this, but in an American context, and this is really like recent, this is like 1960s, but he’s talking about how, well, I like to call it American Buddhism, because that’s what it is. It’s like American Pop Buddhism. A lot of ideas around American Buddhism. It’s these people like, what’s that guy’s name? Alan Watts. These like, kind of like white people who are looking at Asian culture. And then the way that they’re treating it is like, well, this culture, it’s been somehow degraded and like, I have to rescue it and then I have to become like, an organizer of it. And because I’m the rest of the organizer of this cultural artifact, then I become the authority on this, too. So like, that’s kind of what’s happening in Alan Leo’s stay with India because, like, the way that he quotes, you know, Indian astrologers is he never mentions anyone by name.
ASK: Yeah, he just says like Indian astrology as a whole, which is like, I don’t know. It’s so confusing. India is one of the most diverse places on the planet.
CB: Yeah. When I was researching Alan Leo, early on at Kepler, he was like very, through theosophy, and because the Theosophical Society moved their headquarters there to India he mentions his trips to India as having a major impact on him. And I wrote a paper once talking about Indian astrology influencing Alan Leo in a major way and then, therefore, influencing the course of Western astrology, modern Western Astrology of the 20th century. But my friend, Kenneth Miller, wrote a counter paper like a critique pointing out that Alan Leo doesn’t really seem to have been that familiar with the techniques of Indian astrology, but instead he just sort of had adopted some of those religious concepts of karma and reincarnation and incorporated that into his philosophy. But then he, you know, through theosophy really did something quite different with it that was not necessarily like closely allied with the actual culture that he got that from. And I guess that brings up the whole broader topic which is kind of tricky of the idea of like cultural appropriation and when that is something that is bad and wrong or something that shouldn’t be done versus when learning from different cultures is something that’s positive or constructive in different ways and what the line is between those two things because I think that’s a really important discussion in astrology because, due to the history of astrology for the past 4000 years, it’s had so many different contributions from different cultures and astrologers naturally talk with each other and exchange techniques and ideas and philosophies. And yeah, what the role is of when something is cultural appropriation versus when it’s something that’s more whatever the constructive or appropriate version of that is.
ASK: Cultural Appropriation like whether it’s something that you do is appropriative or not it’s not something that you can control to your individual actions, because cultural appropriation happens when there’s a power imbalance. So, the reason why cultural appropriation is offensive is not because, you know, it’s like oh, this is like, you know, my cultures and that’s our intellectual property. Like that’s not why it’s offensive. The reason why it’s offensive is because people who have power in society often mimic those that they are oppressing, while also trying to erase those very people. So like, that’s just kind of like a really clear distinction between the two.
CB: Could you give an example of that or do you, because I know you give a couple examples in the book and I’m trying to think of them, but is there one, like an example of that just culturally that stands out?
ASK: Yeah, yeah. Boston Tea Party. People kind of storming this like this ship and throwing all the tea into the water. They’re dressed in what they believe are appropriations of indigenous people. And at the same time, while they’re appropriating these, like ideas around aesthetics, for their own uses, they’re also engaged in this genocidal project. So that’s one example.
CB: Right. That was something that you talked about, and you talked about a few different instances of that, of sometimes Americans appropriating parts of indigenous American culture, but then still, like it just being like picking out a piece of that but otherwise not respecting it or not being supportive of it as its own unique thing.
ASK: And also like, you know, yeah, Alan Leo appropriating the ideas around karma, reincarnation, but then, like being a colonizer in India. That’s a pretty clear case of cultural appropriation. So whether you are culturally appropriating or not, like that’s not your choice. Yeah, it’s not something that’s up to you or something that you can change with your individual actions. It actually points at these larger problems.
CB: Okay, so it’s something that’s there in society that you’re participating in, but I guess one of the questions people might have today, or astrologers especially might have, is how can I study different cultures or different approaches to astrology, and in some instances, integrate some of that knowledge or wisdom into my own without doing something that’s harmful or that is inappropriate, especially when it comes to whatever culture they’re studying at the time or other, instead of culture, let’s say other astrological tradition.
ASK: I think that you will have to figure out why you want to study it. This is something that I want to ask every white person who’s interested in East Asian cosmologies. Like why? What are the reasons?
CB: Right. I mean, I’m thinking of other instances, for example of like, let’s say, if you want to study the astrological tradition, there was a lot of astrologers were the locus of activity moved to like Baghdad and astrologers were writing in Arabic in the 8th and 9th centuries. And so different astrologers might want to study that period in order to see what astrology is like and integrate it into their own practice. So it’s like are things like that considered? Would that be considered cultural appropriation? Or is that an appropriate role in terms of astrologers, studying parts of the astrological tradition in order to better or create more effective techniques in their own practice?
ASK: I don’t really see this as appropriative because that’s, you know, the Middle Ages. Like the astrology being done in Baghdad around that time, like, it’s part of the tradition of Western astrology, too, or it’s been absorbed into how we think about Western astrology. I don’t really, I mean, I could be wrong. I’m not Middle Eastern. So I don’t know how the Middle East would have a reaction to that.
CB: Okay. Yeah, I mean, I guess that gets to one of the main things in the discussions that I can kind of see happening in the future as like postcolonial theory is applied more to astrology is just dealing with how culturally diverse astrology is, especially what we call Western astrology, you know, encompasses four or 5,000 years of history and dozens or hundreds of different cultures and a bunch of different languages that it’s passed through at different points and different religions and different, you know, ethnic groups that were practicing at different times or religious groups. And that tension because it’s got such a diverse history of, yeah, just applying some wanting to be careful and wanting to be respectful of different cultures, while at the same time embracing the diversity of astrology over time and history.
ASK: Yeah, totally.
CB: So, let’s see. I was going to see if you have any advice then in terms of astrologers or what you want them to take away from your book in terms of applying postcolonial theory to you know, one of the things you did was looking at astrology in different eras, but it is the primary thing just being careful and cognizant of what your own biases are or your own cultural perspective is?
ASK: Yeah, I think that it’s not about like being careful of anything. The reason why I like made the book is so that there’s like a way of talking about these issues that are really alive in our lives. So like, you know, that’s just the intention, like, the reason why it just focuses on the seven planets is like there’s no technical pieces in the book. Yeah, there’s no way that like, I think that anyone should be practicing astrology. Like there’s no kind of like criteria for that. And then people like, a lot of times practice different types of astrology simultaneously. And so, like, that’s really fine. The book is just there as an option for if you want to talk about oppression in your practice, like, hey, like, you know, here’s some openings. That’s it. It’s not like, “oh, yeah, here’s how you do it” like postcolonial astrology or anything like that. It’s “here’s some information” and how you use this information that’s up to you. I mean, as you practice, like, we might have a different relationship to this information, just as a practitioner. People can talk about oppression any way that they want to. But yeah, it just it gives you like little windows that’s all I was trying to do. That’s why I think I like questions, too, is because they open up little windows. Yeah, that’s all the book is trying to do.
CB: That makes sense, because you’re like bringing in discussions that haven’t been had in an astrological context up to this point and trying to discuss things in the context of astrology, like such as capital or such as power or such as labor in an astrological context, which you don’t usually see in discussions up to this point.
ASK: Mmhmm. Yeah.
CB: And I know at one point in the introduction you mentioned potential like, you kicked around with your editor like different titles or different things? Like what were some of the other provisional titles for the book?
ASK: Oh, they were like really bad because I’m not very good at like naming things, anything. And I wanted to name it “magic ism” because like, there’s magic and then there’s isms, which I wanted it to be about, like, you know, here’s this institution of magic. But like, you know, rightfully so my editor was like, “No one’s going to understand what that means.” And it’s like, how about we name it Postcolonial Astrology? I think that like it’ll just make people understand like, maybe the contents of the book a little bit better.
CB: Yeah, I mean, it did but then at the same time, I went into it thinking that it would be much more theory heavy about, like, outlining what postcolonial theory is and like academia and how this relates to astrology and like this, very ABC fashion, but instead it was interesting that what it ended up being primarily was a discussion of the seven planets and individual meanings as well as like, relationships to each other and dynamics and ways of talking about that in a way that I hadn’t seen before in astrological books through those more political and through more sort of like left terminology. Like is that how to summarize the book or how would you summarize?
ASK: Yeah, I think so because I’m not an academic. So I don’t know all the ins and outs of postcolonial theory. I know the books I picked up and read through, but like I never learned it in an institutional setting. So yeah, like, you know, I’m a practicing astrologer. That’s what I do so I would write a book that’s useful to people who are like me.
CB: Right. That makes sense. You said something recently in a tweet that I thought was really interesting about like, how it was something about how do you process having just done a consultation with somebody and then all the interesting things that you’re learning and thinking about that, but then because of the nature of like the client relationship, the needing to just process that sort of on your own or something to that effect. Am I articulating that right?
ASK: Yeah, people gave me some really great advice in that thread. People were like, you know, it’s actually like, “Yeah, you’re human”, you can process it with your one other person anonymously, and really vaguely, that’s fine. So that was really nice. I’ve been processing with my partner, sometimes with my best friend a little bit. Not like processing “Oh, let me tell you about this” but like, “Oh, hey, this happened today”, nothing about identities or who the client is.
CB: Yeah, and I wanted to mention that just because that’s something I do feel like is really important and I sometimes, with my partner, will talk about something anonymously and just generally speaking about things that I’m processing from consultations afterwards. And I think that’s actually really important for astrologers. Because you know, it’s not just the client that learns from the session, but also the astrologer learns something as well by just seeing how the principles have worked out in somebody’s life in a very not dramatic but a very distinct and a very interesting way in different cases.
ASK: Yeah. Because sometimes you get really moved during a consultation.
CB: Right. Yeah. But then it’s just over suddenly, like dramatically after that 75 minutes or that 90 minutes and it’s almost anticlimactic sometimes because you’re still like can be thinking about it for like hours or sometimes like days afterwards. You know, what you saw, and the insight that that gave you into astrology and into how it works and things like that.
ASK: Yeah, yeah. I found that writing client notes is also really useful because then you have something to refer back to if that person comes back to you. But also, like, if I write something down, for some reason, like my brain is able to forget it a little bit better.
CB: Yeah, I think that’s really good advice as well. Because also, in terms of just learning things and building up knowledge also as a practicing astrologer, it’s like an important thing because you do also forget the details of consultations not that long after you have them. And so sometimes if there’s something that you’ve written down, that was like an interesting principle or like an aphorism for yourself, that you learned or observed in that instance, it can help sort of contribute to your body of knowledge as a practicing astrologer in the long term.
ASK: Yeah, yeah.
CB: Are there any other things like that that have come up for you that have been unique in working with different communities as a practicing astrologer? I mean, I guess it’s hard because you know, you can’t step outside of your own practice and just say like, what that is compared to somebody else. But that might be helpful for you if there’s other people in your position that are coming into the field and starting to do consulting astrology that have been interesting or like useful?
ASK: I think that the reframe is like so useful, just as a therapeutic device. And it’s like, it’s so built into an astrology session because you can reframe using the chart.
CB: What do you mean by that?
ASK: So like reframing, just kind of like hearing, reflecting a client’s words back to them in different language. And yeah, even just asking, am I hearing you, right? Like, you know, is my perception of you, like, right on? But like, because like, you know, a lot of times when you’re processing things on your own you don’t get the opportunity for a reframe. So I feel like it’s just it’s so useful because I feel like with a reading like you’re not really telling someone who they are, what they should do or anything like that. You’re kind of acting as a mirror almost. And that’s what does the healing because like, you know, people heal themselves. And like when you’re able to reframe in a way that identifies patterns that the client hasn’t been able to identify like, that’s really powerful.
CB: Right. Yeah. And in some ways, that’s almost like the primary thing that astrology can do that’s effective and useful or healing as you said. Are there any other things that you learned when you first learned astrology that you felt like were not appropriate or that you’ve had to change in terms of your technical approach or how you talk to people that maybe you feel like were weird because they weren’t developed by people that were used to speaking to different communities? Like that you’ve had to change in your own technical approach?
ASK: Yeah, sure. Like, for example, with the whole like, gay Neptune thing. Like I don’t know, when I was first starting out I read a paper that’s like, well, if you have like hard Neptune or Neptune aspects of some kind of like, then you’re more likely to be gay. And I mean, the assumptions like well, if you don’t have these aspects, then you aren’t gay. But then like, you know, like all my clients are queer. And so it’s like, yeah, of course, like I never looked for a Neptune-anything association with queerness.
CB: Yeah, there were a lot of things like that from like the 1970s or like Uranus-Venus aspects. I feel like some of the textbooks were sometimes associated with that, which now if you look back on them look very, very dated and very like, kind of weird or inappropriate at this point.
ASK: Yeah, I didn’t know that at the time when I was learning because I wasn’t really involved in the online community, or I don’t know if there was one. So I was just kind of like looking for stuff on my own. I was like, “oh, like maybe this is important.”
CB: What were your primary sources? Or do you have any astrologers who were major influences on you in terms of your approach or the approach that you ended up taking?
ASK: Well, I would go to The Strand. And then they had an astrology shelf, like not a section, a shelf. So I just looked at what’s there. And then I would go to East Village Books, and they had a whole lot of astrology books. So like, you know, like, I don’t know why they had so many. It was like, a large percentage of their bookstore. And I would just pick up like kind of whatever I found so I was reading a lot of Liz Greene, Stephen Arroyo, things like that.
CB: Who are some of your favorite, like authors that influenced you the most or that are still books that stick with you in terms of things that stick with you in terms of your approach today?
ASK: That’s a good question. I really liked this one book called The Rising Sign and I don’t see it like circulated a whole lot. I can’t remember the author’s name. Do you mind if I just go to my bookshelf and pull it off?
CB: Yeah, sure. I’m curious.
ASK: Yeah, I was kind of looking to see if there’s any other books. I like this book. Oh, Jeanne Avery is the title of the person.
CB: Okay. Yeah.
ASK: I really like this book. Yeah. So like, this was like a really early read for me. And I was really into Stephen Arroyo’s book about Saturn like I got into your work and Demetra George’s work a little bit later but I’m a big fan of both of you. And, yeah, I mean, like, you know, so many things.
CB: Cool, Demetra, I’ll be doing an episode with her just after this one. So that’s kind of timely then.
ASK: Cool. That’s your 300th.
CB: Yeah, I think that might be 300. We’ll see.
ASK: I was really into this YouTuber, too, called Doelow Da Pilotman.
CB: Yeah, I’ve seen you cite his work in some of your articles as being kind of influential on your thinking.
ASK: Yeah, he was the first astrologer that I saw using the essential dignities. So that’s kind of who I learned essential dignities from.
CB: Okay, that makes sense. All right. I’m trying to think of any other major things that we meant to touch on or major questions that we wanted to discuss. Is there anything that comes to mind that I’m forgetting or that we haven’t touched on or brought up at all at this point?
ASK: I don’t think so. Yeah, you’re so thorough.
CB: Yeah, I usually try to be a little bit more prepared in terms of like a sequential like major things I want to touch on but there was just so much that the book covered and you covered such a wide array of different sources and ideas when looking at the meaning of the planets in different ways that that was relevant culturally over history that it was hard to, like, condense it all down into like a singular discussion necessarily.
ASK: No, thank you. Yeah, I feel like that was really good, like the way that you structured and led the discussion. I wonder if we can mention, like, you know that the link in my website goes to Mil Mundos like really quickly. I don’t know if we mentioned that.
CB: We didn’t but we should. So the book is coming out next month, basically about a month from now. You said the publication date should be May 18th, 2021. And people can find out more information about it if they go to your website which is alicesparklykat.com/postcolonialastrology. And there’s a specific, especially if people live in the US, website that you’d prefer people to order it from, right?
ASK: Yeah, the link on my website will take you to a mutual aid project called Mil Mundos. So then 50% of their money like it goes towards mutual aid. So it’s nice if you order from there. If you live outside of the US and Puerto Rico, unfortunately you can’t order from Mil Mundos. They don’t ship internationally, but what you can do is you can just call your local bookstore, ask them to stock it. It’s super easy for them. If they have a account with Penguin, then they’re able to do that. You can also read the introduction of the book on my website. There’s a link also on that page that’ll take you to the introduction.
CB: Okay, awesome. So that’s alicesparklykat.com. You’ve also got a blog there, and you’re also pretty active writing on Twitter and doing different Twitter threads pretty frequently, right?
ASK: Yeah, I go on Twitter a lot. It’s kind of an addiction.
CB: Right. Yeah. I’ve been experimenting with not having it on my phone as much lately just to refocus on things but it’s hard sometimes, yeah, because so much of the discussion, especially with younger astrologers has migrated there in the past several years.
ASK: Yeah, I just got on Twitter this year. I never was on it.
CB: Okay, what’s your handle on Twitter?
ASK: Oh, my handle on Twitter is @AliceSparklyKat all one word and that’s Kat with a K.
CB: Okay, perfect. Cool. Well, yeah, good luck with the book launch next month. Congratulations. And yeah, thanks for coming on the show to talk about it. I appreciate it.
ASK: Yeah, thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate you putting this together. Yeah, for supporting the book.
CB: Of course. All right. Well, thanks everyone for listening or watching this episode of The Astrology Podcast. Enjoy the book and we’ll see you again next time.
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