“Do you want to—I mean, you don’t have to do this—but do you want to tell me your rising sign?” Chani Nicholas, astrologer, healer, artist, activist, writer, and the shyest sage, asked me midway through our interview.
I told her it was Scorpio, excited that she asked and slightly self-conscious that I shouldn’t get distracted by learning things about myself. I was supposed to be learning about her! But learn about her was exactly what I did, even when I was the one answering questions and watching her jot down things with a pencil and paper. When Chani learned I had a Cancer moon, she exclaimed, “Oh love! That’s so sweet. That’s a really powerful moon.” And hearing her say it made it both true and profound. With just a few details, she was able to determine that I was born in a night chart, with the sun just about to rise. Chani might think of herself as a student of the stars and the planets—a student of movement—but she is a teacher, too. And a moving one at that.
When a chart or a person to engage with is before Chani, she lights up. Not only is she eloquent and thoughtful, she is a wide-angle listener, generous in her feedback and self-reflexive, with a great sense of humor. The only part of this interview that may not be emphasized enough is how much we laughed.
I first came across Chani’s star-studded guidance in 2013, just a short while after I bade a tearful goodbye to Kerri and other babes in my New Jersey hometown and finally made my permanent move to the west coast. At the time, Chani was hosting her astrology on a BlogSpot site called Until the Stars Fall From the Sky, and even the title resonated with me so much. Until the Stars Fall From the Sky, we will look to them, we will learn from them, we will hang hopes on them.
Despite spending time with varying kinds of wonderful witchery throughout my life, I had always maintained a rather shallow relationship to astrology. I knew a bit about the stars and planets. I knew my sun sign, and, of course, I gobbled any book that remotely connected SEX, TRUE LOVE, and SPACE MAGIC, but I had never read a horoscope that really spoke to me. Honestly, I didn’t know or care if any ever would.
But when I first read a sun and rising sign horoscope on Chani’s blog, I was blown away. Chani doesn’t merely interpret planetary events and muse about how they could relate to our tiny human lives. She weaves in poetry, visual art, academic thought, and social justice to create these all-too-short but immediately dense morsels about our position, at any given moment, in the world.
Chani Nicholas is an astrologer and a half, and her take on self-doubt, self-care, human connectivity, activism, community, Oprah, and being able to admit you don’t know are more than worth a read, they are fucking inspirational.
What first got you into astrology? Did you have a mentor?
When I was eleven, my father remarried, and the mother of the woman he married is a Reiki master. She had lived through the 60’s and had been one of those people who went off and had her own spiritual journey. She initiated me into the healing art of Reiki when I was 14, which was the youngest that she would allow me to do it. [Laughs] I begged her to let me before that.
She also got an astrology reading for me, my father, stepmom, stepbrother and my sister when I was 12. Twelve is a really important time astrologically. When we’re 12, we go through something called a Jupiter Return because Jupiter’s cycle is 12 years. So if you study astrology, you can think about where your Jupiter is, what it governs, what it means in your chart, and then you can look at 12 and 24 and 36. But 12, especially, carries a vibration of something starting, especially if Jupiter is a powerful part of your chart–which it is for me!
This astrologer sat us down and said to me, “You’re not going to want to sit through every astrology reading. You’re 12.” And then she started speaking this language, and I was like, “Oh my god!” I sat and listened to everybody’s readings. It gave me this insight into why we’re different, and how we’re different, and that that was neither good nor bad. It was just speaking to our personalities and our potentials and our lives and how we reacted to our lives. It was a really important framework for me to have to understand human nature in a way that wasn’t just like, “I don’t know, I guess that person’s just lucky! I guess I just don’t have that!” There was a way in which things were working. She had written a book, and I got the book and just devoured it. And I’ve been studying astrology ever since.
What was the book?
You know, I don’t remember her name, and I don’t think it was ever mass-published because I never saw it again. She had her own theory on astrology about what stage of evolution we were at with each sign. It gave me this whole lens into it that was really powerful.
But my stepgrandmother brought me into the world of astrology, and my stepgrandfather used to read Tarot cards at family dinners. They used to tell me stories of their own seeking and their own quests for healing. My grandmother was a very powerful healer. I studied Reiki under her for 12 years. Healing was always very important to me. She and I did my first astrology course together. I was older—I was 20, I think—and I had just come back from traveling when I had my first teacher. But it’s always been there. It’s just that thing that’s always there, you know? Like…feminism! When you see it, you’re like, “YES! Okay, that’s me.”
Giving readings is a specific way of working, and when I was younger, it was hard to figure out a way of giving readings that didn’t exhaust me. So I did other things. I went to school to do counseling stuff. I worked at a group home for young women and worked at an LGBTQ phone line and did activist work in different communities in different settings. Mostly with children and youth. I had lots of other jobs… I’m rambling, sorry!
No! It’s actually very reassuring because I’m also very verbose. And you can trust me with your verbosity. Recently someone interviewed me for a magazine, and I answered a question in three paragraphs, and then she picked out the weirdest part of what I said and quoted, like, one sentence. I was like, “Oh my god I have to learn how to do this!”
I know, giving interviews is a whole strategy!
My main point is that it took me a long time to trust my own skill. It took me a long time to trust my connection to my own way of being in the world. And it took me a long time to validate what I was good at. I came into some kind of success with it really late in life. I struggled a lot with it. I struggled a lot with myself. So I think it’s important to say that just because something comes easy to us, doesn’t mean that we’re easy with it, you know? I just always like to say it’s been a long, winding road with a lot of shifts, a lot of stops.
Yes, totally! We’re fed this idea that if you have a gift and you pursue it, it will always be rewarded.
I grew up on Oprah, you know, so I was like, “When is the light gonna come? Oprah says it’s around the corner, and if I’m really fucked up and depressed, I’m gonna have a break through!” I felt so inadequate because I couldn’t do the Oprah thing. Where was my “aha” moment? I was just in a series of “oh fucks”. [Laughs] There’s nothing wrong with late blooming.
Are there identities that you hold that carry into the reading work that you do? You mentioned being a healer, but because your work is also so socially conscious and tinged with social justice, I’m curious about what communities you’re a part of and how that influences your work.
So I’m white. I’m Jewish. I’m queer. I’m not trans…I’m interested in how I can utilize what I’ve been given to promote spaces where healing and justice can occur. How can I be a part of that dialogue? Because astrology, if it’s interesting, is going to be about humankind, human nature, and life on the planet. So if astrology is not speaking to what is going on in many different communities, in my communities, in my life and with my friends and my partner—like, if it’s not addressing the violence, and difficulty, and oppression; if it’s not talking about the systems that are causing harm and possible creative solutions to build a new way of being with each other—it’s not interesting to me.
As a feminist, as a queer person, as someone who struggles to find ways towards healing and love and justice, if my astrology can’t talk about that, then I don’t want it. If I’m not open to understanding other points of view and other realities besides my own, then I don’t know how good of an astrologer I can actually be, because then I’m just talking to myself. And then it’s just more myopic, self-centered violence. I think that if spiritual practices only speak to the privileged few, that’s violent in and of itself and boring because it’s not speaking to a larger human experience…of which I don’t know that much about either. But if I can try to see what I’m missing…I’m always trying to think from different points of view. How is it going to land with different people? What am I actually promoting when I write? Is it a spiritual bypassing that I’m perpetuating? Because I don’t have any interest in doing that.
What do you mean by “spiritual bypassing”?
A spiritual bypass is when spiritual communities say, “It’s all good! We’re all one! I don’t see race. Our souls don’t have a color. It’s their karma. In India they say…” It feels so violent, especially when folks are misappropriating Eastern philosophies.
Instead, we can start with humility, saying, “I know I don’t know. I want to be teachable. I’m not going to think that my way of viewing everything is the correct way.” I assume that I’m viewing life through a white supremacist-patriarchal-capitalist lens because that’s what I was taught. And I’d like to see if I can deconstruct that, to the best of my ability, in each moment.
I really relate to that and appreciate that practice of yours so much. I grew up with what may be called Eastern and also, like, globally Southern spiritual practices. I had a lot of bad experiences with faith healers because I’m physically disabled and my parents, in a kind of a misguidedly loving way, wanted to see how spirituality could interact with my body. There were a lot of floating attitudes, which affected my parents adversely too, of, “What does it mean that you’re in this body?” It was a kind of psychological trauma, to think of myself as some manifestation of societal badness or something, you know?
Instead of looking at the system that would even ask that question. Where is that notion from, that we aren’t perfect as we are or that we need to be like Jane Smith in order to be happy or worthy or “right”? Spiritual systems that tend to put the onus on the individual without ever looking critically at the system that they are operating in are highly problematic for me. There’s got to be some sort of middle ground. I know that, as a human, it’s important for me to also look at my part in a situation, but it’s just as important to understand what I am operating inside of.
It’s very negligent of different kinds of experiences. I was curious, have you gotten reader feedback that has changed the way that you’ve written posts? Kerri and I have noticed that you add caveats to posts, like “This is only meant to refer to the major events of the week” or “Horoscopes are meant to be read as inspiration.” Have you gotten reader feedback where someone was really emphatic about their horoscope or something?
I’m always trying take in information, so I’m much harder on myself than anybody else is, I think. But I do, I have, I had somebody call me on something a little while ago. And I’m really grateful for that. Sometimes it’s hostile or feels that way, but then I have to check myself and ask, “Are you just being defensive?”
I’m really grateful for dialogue. I want to be in communication with folks. I don’t know what I don’t know, and I want to be in community with people. I don’t want to be preaching down…we’re in this together. I learn from everybody that crosses my path. So yes, I’ve had really great dialogues with people that checked me on things, added really great things to think about…everything in-between.
And it’s also sparked some really great relationships.
If I did the wrong hashtag or something, and somebody from that community reached out and said, “Hey, we’re not doing that. We don’t want to co-opt that movement. But we’re leading this movement, if you could help us out.” Then I’m like, “Great!” Now I know about that movement. Then I can facilitate some attention going that way or support the really great activism that’s happening. I want to be in relationship with what’s going on. That’s what’s interesting to me.
That’s what’s interesting to me too! What is, I was going to say “an average day in the life,” but maybe instead tell me about when you are trying to get a bunch of work done, what’s that like? What’s your set-up? And when you’re doing other stuff, letting other things come in, what’s that like?
So on writing days, like today, I will spend a lot of time researching things. One of my research places is just Facebook, seeing what people’s take is on things and getting some really good critical articles about world events that are taking place. It’s a great source of news because my friends are awesome activists, artists, astrologers and thinkers, and everyone tends to share the best of the best from the daily news. I’m very, very grateful for the curation.
So I’ll read and meander around. I really like to get the tone of what and how people are talking about things in the moment. What’s important, and what strikes me as important. Then I look at the astrology and how it might unfold in the next week or so and how it relates to what’s currently getting lit up in people, what’s emerging, and what’s being parsed out. What conversation is happening? How does it affect people? What does that mean when I’m looking at the planets?
I’ll do a lot of investigating—reading and gathering—and then I have to just make myself write, which can sometimes be a very painful process. It takes all day and has me wanting to just veg out and do other things a lot of the time. I get very distracted. And it’s…you know, it’s just a writer’s life! Then, finally, something comes. Oftentimes, I’ll just lay on the floor and wait for the first sentence to come. It’s a lot of listening, trying to translate in a sensible way the impressions I get from astrology.
Then, on days when I have clients, I get up early, and I do my research for my charts and see people online, on Facetime or Skype. I’m looking at people’s lives and how they’re impacted. When I have courses running, I’ll be on email a lot with people because they have questions about it, and we’ll be doing on-the-go astrology. Really, I have a lot of different parts of my job and my day. I’ll get a lot of emails from people just wanting to tell me different things, so it’s a lot of responding to people. And then, you know, posting, gathering art, hashtagging, blah, blah, blah business stuff. It’s a lot of engaged computer time, to be honest. Then I try to go and lay in the grass and listen to the rustle of the leaves. Do some yoga. Stretch out my body.
Yeah, the balance of being on a computer all day long, and then also having a body, is very confusing for me to work out. I’m still in a process of understanding how to do that correctly.
What’s a day off like? Do you have a day off?
I try. I work really well with deadlines. On my days off, it’s important that I see people in person and not talk about work. I go to Shabbat services sometimes. I have a Jewish community that is very activist-oriented, which helps. Being outside, letting my eyes look at sunlight! Just letting myself do nothing, honestly. I really just want to hang out with my wife, see our loved ones, and eat good food.
So I was a really big fan of Until the Stars Fall From the Sky–
And I was wondering: what was the catalyst for making the transition to your self-titled site? How is the moment that you’re in now different, astrologically, from where you were then?
Well, I still love Until the Stars Fall From the Sky, but it was just too long to tell people. No one would remember it. I thought long and hard about what kind of name I could have. Names and handles are really good if they’re short and succinct. I was looking for something to do with astrology and my name or something, and I just couldn’t find one.
Then I realized something very important about my chart, which is that there is something very linked for me between my identity and how I make money. Or how I work in the world, how I work with my assets. So my name domain was open—I think I used to have it when I taught yoga and I never gave it up. When I realized that thing about my chart, I just thought, “Fuck, I’ll keep it.” For lack of a better, simpler, more distilled version of what I do.
I wish now that I had come up with an alias or something. I’m not the kind of person that’s like…Comfortable with Being Me! Not my deal at all. Which is why it’s so funny that it’s my name. I can’t hide!
You know, it does make you seem like an Oprah, a little bit.
Next: The Talk Show. The Astrology Talk Show!
[Laughs] I really want to have a podcast though! I just want to interview all of my amazing friends and activist heroes.
Please have a podcast! That’s amazing.
My wife and I have to have a business meeting, but I think it’s going to be on the agenda for 2016.
Well, that’s interesting that you’re not so comfortable with that kind of individual attention.
No, I’m not at all! I don’t put pictures up on my site. I’m a very uncomfortable person. I’m very Jewish. I’m full of anxiety and self-critique. Like if anybody knew how much pain I’m in just about being in the world…I’m getting better at it, though. When I first started writing, I would literally be doubled over in shame and pain and self-doubt. Physically. But it felt like something I had to do…
There’s a part of me that just goes and jumps off a cliff like, “It’s great! It’s gonna be fine! I’ve got total faith!” And then the other part of me that’s like, “Oh my god what are you doing? You can’t do that!” Those two parts fight a lot.
Oh my god, yes. I oscillate a lot, too. Are you currently able to sustain and support yourself financially with the astrological work that you’re doing?
I mean, it’s the only the thing I do. I try to work on the model where things are really accessible for everybody. Not everyone can afford a personal reading, and I physically can’t get to all the people that would want a reading. So to have the work be free, if you want to donate, you can. The monthly courses are under $20, and The Year Ahead is $21. I try to keep things where folks can access them because that’s a really important model to have to me.
So yeah, it’s been a lot of years of building the model so that it can work, and now I don’t have to do the other jobs that I used to do.
So you have talked about being a self-doubting person sometimes. One of the Babe Squad questions is: did you ever have a moment of self-doubt where you thought you wouldn’t achieve what you have, and how did you get past that moment?
[Laughs] Getting out of bed in the morning! I try to get out of bed again, the next morning.
Yeah, you know, I go to therapy regularly. I am married to the most amazing woman who loves me through every part of my journey and myself. I get acupuncture when I can. I get a massage when I can. I get help as much as I can remember to! I talk to friends. I belong to different spiritual communities that are helpful to me.
I think self-doubt is a really good teacher. There are many-layered and multiple reasons why we have self-doubt. They stem from personal, childhood experiences…different parts of our life experiences. They stem from interaction with systems, with the cultures we live in and society’s understanding of us…all of those things that are at play all the time.
There’s something about being able to witness what, at times, feels like my halting self-doubt, and to be with myself through another bout of that and to know that every other time it’s happened, I’ve found my way through it. And every other time it’s happened, it’s been a way to be with myself. It’s a part of who I am…it’s powerful! And for me, it’s also self-obsessed. If I can get the fuck out of my head and be of service to other people, then I’ll be okay. I have to get into the work, when I’m feeling like that. An esteemable act will help me find my way through that. Or reading about other people’s pain or talking in a circle where folks are sharing really honestly…in the Bay, you know, there’s so much of that! And, in a way, you’re really in a bubble. People outside of those bubbles and communities forget that it’s just human to feel all of those things. I just know I have to help my “little person” through that. Ultimately, if I let it, it can help me be a better listener or friend or person on the planet.
Oh, I love that. My partner would love that, too. He’s always talking about talking the little child-you.
Yeah. And if we didn’t have parents that were…whatever….Parents always do the best that they can—I try to believe that as much as possible—but if you don’t have guidance that is helpful to you when you’re young, you’ve got to do that for yourself. But we ultimately have to be what we didn’t have. That’s the point of maturity and growing up, and that’s real growth. I think that if I can do that, then I can feel successful in my life. If I can learn in this lifetime how to take care of myself, then I’ll have had what feels like a successful life.
Well I definitely feel like that is a resounding message of your horoscopes, and something that I really appreciate. It’s really self-nurturing. I have come to many moments in reading your work where I have said to myself, “Okay, I’m going to pick myself up,” and not in a “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps” bullshit way. But as if to say, “If you want to be here, then you have to take care.”
Self-care is so important. I was just talking about it with this really great activist Yolo Akili, who wrote a beautiful book called Dear Universe. It’s social justice-meets-daily affirmations. It’s a brilliant book. We were just talking about how important it is to have a self-care practice and to be dedicated to it. I don’t have to tell anyone this, but it’s hard to just walk through the world sometimes. I can get lost in the “fuck this” and I-want-to tear-it-all-down mentality, so I have to find a way to come back and say to myself, [laughs] “How are you doing? You’re angry. It’s okay! You have a right to be. But also, you’re burning fuses.”
Definitely. Activism burnout and work burnout is unfortunately so normalized. I feel like that’s one of the biggest things that I get from disability justice: burnout should not be normal. Burnout should not be what you expect of yourself and should not be what you expect to have done to you. Okay, final question: do you consider yourself successful? How do you define success?
I define success as when I get feedback—and I don’t want this to sound like I’m being exclusionary—but when I get feedback that I am somehow supportive to my community, it’s, like, the best thing ever. When people that I really respect—other artists or activists or thinkers—either share my work or project or ask me to help out with something… When I know that I’m speaking to the people that I’m writing for, there’s no greater blessing than that.
I want to be serving the people that are doing activism in the world. When the work is meeting people, and they say that it’s helped them do justice work in the world, that is so heartening for me. That’s everything to me. I don’t care about the rest of it. I just want it to be useful. If I can help support people’s work in the world that brings about a more just, loving, fair society and life on the planet, that’s my jam. That’s what I live for. Every time that I get that feedback, I feel like the work works! I feel like I’m doing something that’s valuable.
Well let me just say, then, that the work is useful to me. I feel seen by it. I very clearly have a memory of driving in the car with my friend Ria and there was some kind of Virgo moon, it was Virgo and Pisces doing something I don’t know what it was, but I was reading it out loud and we were both just crying…it was just one of several moments that I have had with your writing. I love how connective it is because it really feels like more than, “This is what’s going to happen to you, Sagittarius!” It says, “This is what’s happening with you amidst all of these things that are happening around you.” And it gives me a lot of hope.
That makes me feel like everything’s worth it. Because what else are we here for but to connect with each other? I think that’s the whole deal.
You can learn more about Chani (and yourself) on her website, which includes weekly horoscopes, access to her “2016: The Year Ahead for Your Sign” e-book package, updates on events and information on how to donate. Follow Chani as she integrates activism with astrology on Facebook or Twitter. Keep your ears perked for a podcast this year, too!
Feature photo by Sam Tabet for Signified