This interview was conducted as part of the interview series LGBTQ&A, a weekly podcast that documents modern queer and trans history.
"When you read ancient texts, they're hilarious," says astrologer Chani Nicholas on how much astrology has changed over the last 2,000 years.
"They're like, We'll be killed by rabies. We'll be bitten by a wolf under the full moon. It's very intense. It was like, Who is going to win? Are you going to stay alive? Will you die of some horrible disease? Because that was the reality of life then. They didn't have time to ponder their childhood trauma."
Astrology has changed with the times, the practice evolving, necessarily, to fit into our modern age. And now, with the help of the internet — which has helped astrology become more popular than ever before — and books like Nicholas's You Were Born For This: Astrology For Radical Self-Acceptance, you can view your astrological chart and all of the wisdom it holds without an astrologer even being present.
"If you want to access that map of your life, you can." Nicholas says on the LGBTQ&A podcast this week. She talks about these modern changes to astrology, why she originally thought people would hate her unique style of astrology, and shares why queer people have such a deep connection to the field.
Read a preview below and click here to listen to the full podcast interview.
Jeffrey Masters: You write that astrology has always gone in and out of cycles of vogue. Does right now feel different, like it’s here to stay?
Chani Nicholas: I don't know. That's a good question. I don't know what is here to stay.
Like, what will be here in the next 20, 30, 50 years? We're living in an unprecedentedly unexpected era of change in terms of the Earth and climate. Astrology comes into vogue at times of great change societally because we're breaking open a paradigm of what we thought worked for us.
Hopefully, the paradigm that's being broken right now is white supremacist, patriarchal, colonial capitalism. It doesn't work well for 99.9 percent of the people on the Earth, but we know it, and I think that we're awakening to breaking that open and trying to live in a different way because we know it's not sustainable.
It's a moment that's ripe for looking for things to give us a context. Why are we here? There is a system we can see this moment in that can give it context and meaning, and where we can develop a deeper relationship with it.
JM: Astrology comes into vogue when we need it. I thought you would have told me that we always need it.
CN: I don't think so. I think in times where things are pretty steady and we know what's going on and what's next, then things like astrology aren't going to necessarily be as popular.
JM: Astrology is an ancient tool that helps us define who we are, but right now, in the modern age, who we are and how we define ourselves is rapidly changing. How has that had an effect on how you interpret astrology?
CN: Esther Perel said something about how we used to forever have a sense of identity through the place we were born, the family we were born into, the community that we were in, and that a lot of that was predetermined for us.
And now, most of us don't live in the city that we grew up in. We don't have that connection to tell us who we are. A lot of us actually get the privilege of establishing that for ourselves, but doing that is a really big task and a lot of us along the path start to be like, Wow, I actually feel really lost. There's too much choice. Who am I and what is actually meaningful for me?
And so in the cornucopia of choice, it's really helpful to be like, actually, these are the things that resonate for me and this is my life's direction. This is my life's purpose. Which is why I wrote my book, You Were Born For This. Because I want people to be able to get confirmation that the things that they want to do and the talents that they have are actually there in a marking in the sky the moment that they took their first breath.
And if you want to access that map of your life, you can.
JM: It’s common to hear people say astrology is more popular than ever. Is that actually true?
CN: Well, the internet makes everything more popular than it's ever been. No other machine has mass produced information at such a rapid pace globally before. Feminism is more popular. Antiracist work is more popular. We have a collective conversation going on, whether that's for good or not good.
Astrology lays at this really great intersection of meme-ability, because it's an archetypal language, and it speaks to our specific experience and personalities and human beings are incredibly egocentric and we also love to be dragged and we love to be affirmed, all in the same moment. And astrology really does that for us. We deeply desire reflections of who we are.
I think most of us can tend to get really consumed with ourselves and lost in our own minds and emotional experiences. And I think that going to the Internet and seeing something about your sign or your astrology can snap us back into a place of like, Yeah, that's me. So then it becomes really popular and then it becomes very shareable and then it becomes this whole other monster.
JM: Why does it seem like queer people specifically love astrology so much?
CN: I want to save space for the queers that loathe astrology because I love you too.
It's a very queer phenomenon. I think queers have really always taken to it. We need alternative ways of seeing ourselves or being witnessed. When a lot of the religious institutions or traditions that we come from have shunned us, on a deep soul level, we want to be seen. And when we grew up in a culture that doesn't see us, that doesn't witness our gender, that invisibilizes us, that makes us into something that we're not, we need ways of being reflected that feel true.
JM: Astrology has never told us that there's a right or wrong gender to love.
CN: Well, astrology is taught by human beings and human beings are really flawed and grow up in systems that are not great. So there's definitely been a lot of astrological knowledge passed down that was very heterosexist, very white supremacist, very cis-gendered. That definitely has existed in the past.
JM: Early on, you said that you thought people would hate your style of astrology. Why is that?
CN: I think I was hanging out with the wrong crowd. Astrology hadn't really hit the queer community like it has since then—we're talking pre-social media. There wasn't a lot of online conversation that I was picking up on.
I was really siloed off and I just didn't know that people that were academics and activists and people doing really serious work would want anything to do with astrology. I felt like it was something that was fairly disrespected or disregarded or misunderstood or not useful honestly. I didn't think folks in those roles would find it useful.
JM: When did your mind start to change?
CN: As soon as I started writing. I was like, Wow, that's weird. People like it. It was immediately affirming and it immediately opened me up to all of these different communities.
JM: Did it feel lonely early on? Like you were the only one paying attention?
CN: Not that I was the only one paying attention. There's a lot of incredible astrologers that work and write and philosophize about the sky and the politics of the moment. I didn't feel alone in that way, but I did feel like I was on to something.
And it's that place, I think, in life that is really interesting and where we really need other people to encourage us. There's a point at which you start doing something and you're like, I think this is good for me, but I'm not making any money and I'm working around the clock and I'm putting everything into this and is this silly?
All of those doubts start to come in and I think we really need something to bolster us and be like, just keep following, keep following, keep following. As long as there's energy there, keep following the thing.
And so I felt actually writing astrology made me less lonely than I had ever been. I felt like I had a relationship to something that was mine. And it wasn't a human, so it couldn't abandon me. It wasn't full of all of those interpersonal issues that can be really hard for me and other humans.
It was just something that I could go to at any moment of the day and have a conversation with. I've always felt like astrology was a really good friend to me. So the more I showed up in that friendship, in that partnership, the more it showed up for me. And I was like, Oh wait, you're actually here? Cool.
JM: And a lot has changed for astrology. I imagine, 2000 years ago, they weren't talking about achieving a work/life balance.
CN: Yeah, the kind of conversations we have these days, the ancients would be like, Wow, you all are really precious and think you're really special. There's definitely that feeling of taking oneself too seriously.
When you read ancient texts, they're hilarious. They're like, We'll be killed by rabies. We'll be bitten by a wolf under the full moon. It's very intense. It was like, Who is going to win? Are you going to stay alive? Will you die of some horrible disease? Because that was the reality of life then. They didn't have time to ponder their childhood trauma.
Astrology sounds very different when you go back into the ages.
JM: You've built an impressive business around astrology, when did you start considering yourself a business person?
CN: When I got married and my wife [Sonya Passi] said, "What are you doing? You could actually turn this into a business."
I was just doing it all for free. A lot of it is still accessible and free. It was very organic. I felt like I had lost control of my life because I had owed my time to everybody for so far in advance.
So I shut my calendar down and we just had this idea—horrible as it was and brilliant as it was—to do a teleclass for a winter solstice ritual. So I was like, if everybody wants some of my time and I physically can't show up for it all, what if I have something where everybody can just gather online and where at least I can have a conversation, albeit one-way with a bunch of people, and that began the business model.
Being married has taught me that I am lovable and worthy of love and that I am a really good partner. And it has taught me how having someone to love makes me want to be a better person and take better care of myself and do everything that much better.
Chani Nicholas' book, You Were Born For This, is available now.
New episodes of the LGBTQ&A podcast come out every Tuesday on the Luminary app.