Astrology is a language that many of us, especially queer people, can speak with ease. But where did this vocabulary come from, and how can we use it to talk about systems that oppress LGBTQ people and people of color?
Queer writer and astrologer Alice Sparkly Kat explores these questions and more in Postcolonial Astrology: Reading the Planets Through Capital, Power, and Labor, their forthcoming book from North Atlantic Books. Structured as a deep-dive into the etymology of the seven planets used by traditional astrologers (the Sun, the Moon, Saturn, Venus, Mars, Mercury, and Jupiter), the book synthesizes contemporary postcolonial theory with the ancient practice of studying the stars. For practicing astrologers, it’s a thoroughly researched tome that grounds the magic of astrology in the material circumstances of white supremacist, cis-hetero patriarchy — and for the astro-curious folks out there, it’s a thought-provoking read that is more conceptual than technical.
Sparkly Kat sat down with NewNowNext to chat about the book, which hits shelves later this month. Find the full conversation below.
Tell me about your astrological journey. When did you start learning about astrology?
I started learning in 2014, ’15. The reason I got into it was I was going through some personal stuff, and it helped me. I started Googling things, looking for books about it. It was a really great language for talking to people about emotions and social expectations without being so blunt sometimes.
As a baby astrologer, I loved that framework because learning astrology really does feel like learning a new language.
Yeah, totally — learning glyphs and everything. I like thinking of astrology as a language because language lives in circulation. It doesn’t have any origin, or it isn’t loyal to any origin. The root of the word “translation” is treason, so language can change so much.
How long did it take you to write and research Postcolonial Astrology?
The writing process took a year, but a lot of the questions I grappled with — what is Western astrology, how does it change over time — have been going on for the entire time I’ve been doing astrology. It’s also not just me who is thinking through this. It’s been five years in collaboration with other people. I did a class called Astrology and Storytelling, and we talk about these questions. I also talk with other queer people and people of color who are into astrology and community.
Did you write the book with a certain reader in mind in terms of astrology proficiency?
It’s really designed to be read by anyone. There’s nothing technical in it. It’s not like, “oh, here’s the rulership scheme,” although those things are kind of in it because we’re talking about the planets. But it can be used by anyone. If you’re a practicing astrologer, or if you’re not an astrologer, but you’re interested in language, you’ll get something out of it.
Was there anything you uncovered in your research that surprised you or that you hadn’t heard before?
Oh, a lot of things. Originally the Mercury and Jupiter chapter was going to be about technology. I believed in technology as a thing before I started doing research, and then I realized that, oh my God, technology is labor. So then it ended up being about labor. Some things with gender surprised me and really pushed my own assumptions, too. The Moon is a lot of times thought of as feminine, and it wasn’t always that way. With Mars, it’s so associated with hyper-masculinity, which is a different form of masculinity than we normally talk about. And in some cases, Mars was considered effeminate.
The chapters about Venus and Mars were two of my favorites, especially since these planets and their significations are often discussed in such a gendered way. How does gender come up in your readings, if at all?
It really depends on the client. I feel like queer people actually talk more about gender that cis-het people. It’s whatever someone needs, too. I’m not going to push the discussion to be about gender unless I’m like, “Are you experiencing this thing that you’re going through in a gendered way?” I might ask that. But gender definitely comes up. It’s not always about sexuality or clothing or something; a lot of times, it’s about money. It’s about labor.
In your interview with Chris Brennan on The Astrology Podcast, you said you hope that Postcolonial Astrology provides entry points for astrologers to talk about oppression in their practice. It made me wonder, how do you talk about oppression with clients?
Readings are always a collaboration between me and the client, and the way we talk about anything is always a collaboration. With astrology, in the past, it was kind of a court activity. Like, “Let’s predict the future of this king.” But now, people aren’t really expecting it to be used for that purpose. It’s kind of like therapy, astrological counseling. So how we talk about oppression depends on the astrologer-client relationship.
You describe the book as a “history and toolkit,” which I think is apt. What other books or resources would you recommend for an astrology lover’s toolkit?
That’s a good question. I have a reading group [with other astrologers]. We read different things that aren’t always related to astrology but help us with our astrological interpretations. I’d recommend Sylvia Winters’s essay “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being.” She talks about the spirit-flesh divide, which is about Fate and Fortune. I would also recommend The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu and The Metaphysics of Modern Existence by Vine Deloria, Jr.
Why do you think so many queer people gravitate toward astrology?
Before the ’80s and ’90s, most teachers of astrology were men, but the students were mostly women. But there were also horoscope columns in feminist zines, so there was a wider redefining of astrology happening — who it was for, who practices it. … One thing I thought about when writing the book was that when queer people use astrology, we’re sort of making astrology fanfiction. It’s a little bit different than adding to the astrology canon. It can be anything.
Postcolonial Astrology is out May 18 and available for preorder now.