Alice Sparkly Kat is an astrologer. They use astrology to re-chart a history of the subconscious, redefine the body in world, and reimagine history as collective memory. Their astrological work has inhabited MoMA, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and The Brooklyn Museum. They're the author of Postcolonial Astrology (May 2021).


ASTROLOGY IS OFTEN compared to race. Both are exercises in imagination, pattern making, and the making of types. Both astrology and race are types of magical thinking and are not rational. Both astrology and race are social constructs and are rooted in the circulations of culture.

As Tabitha Prado-Richardson writes in their essay “Who Needs Astrology?,” titled after the Stuart Hall essay “Who Needs Identity?,” “Sun sign astrology is an essentialism, certainly,” but “as of yet, astrology has not manifested power structures along the lines of its signs. . . . Skeptics such as Benjamin Radford have compared astrology to racism due to this stereotypical, deterministic thinking, but these critics are usually unwilling to go beyond the realm of thought, and define racism as a purely interpersonal phenomenon, rather than composite matrices of domination that limit access and freedom.” If astrology can be compared to other sociopolitical markings of identity such as race, then astrology must also be a political project “bound to cultural meanings, formed by the inter- play between political and historical context.”

Identities, which can include astrological signs along with race and gender, are an orientation. We use intersecting orientations to look outward from within or to look inward from without. Astrology, because it is an ideology that creates identity, can be just as hierarchical, naive, superficial, authentic, scientific, and spiritual as race.

In her book Fatal Invention, Dorothy Roberts writes: “Most Americans do not deduce that biological races exist from scientific evidence and reasoning. They are inculcated with this belief in the same way a child is raised in a religion . . . Anthropologists describe the common meaning of race that does scientific facts as a ‘folk concept.’ This is why Ashley Montagu called race ‘the witchcraft of our time.’ In the 1940s, he wrote, ‘It is the contemporary myth. Man’s most dangerous myth.’”

Later, Roberts writes, “Believing in race can be compared to believing in astrology.”

In a clinical trial done in the 1990s involving 17,000 subjects, physician researchers found that patients responded differently to oral aspirin and a placebo according to astrological sign. The researchers found that those with Gemini or Libra as their Sun sign were more sensitive to the aspirin. According to Roberts, physicians often sort subjects into categories of race when conducting clinical trials, but they rarely do so for astrological signs. However, sorting subjects into any classification can force patterns to show up, and when these patterns are reinforced by political realities, they become institutionalized. Although scientists dismiss differences in sensitivity between zodiac signs as insignificant coincidences, they do not dismiss differences between groups when they sort their patients into the five or so racial categories, even when these five or so racial categories are based on histories of social and political difference rather than on biology.

Testing for race confirms racial biases. Neither race nor astrology have a biological basis, but racial biases are upheld by institutions, while astrological ones are not. Both race and astrology are methods of organization that are cultural and not genetic, but only one has been used to deny and force real medical consequences on people inhabiting these categories. Race is experienced as a political reality, while astrology is not. Race, then, is not experienced as fictional, which astrology often is. Stories around race are not usually seen to be stories that are supported by magical thinking and fictional encounters.

Before the Enlightenment, race was religious and spiritual. In the second book of the Tetrabiblios, Ptolemy writes that when cast- ing a nativity, while general universal astrological concerns such as the thema mundi or the exaltations of the planets should be considered first, particular astrological concerns must also be investigated. Of these particular concerns, Ptolemy begins with the “peculiarities observable in whole nations; in regards to their manners and customs, as well as to their bodily formation and temperament.” For Ptolemy, particular, or relative, astrological concerns began with race, or a precursor to race.

In the next section, Ptolemy writes that his climate is situated in the northern quadrants and that the people living in nations that lie below the southern parallels, whom he calls Ethiopians, are “black in complexion,” “have thick and curled hair,” and are “hot in disposition, and fierce in manners” on account of these nations having “the Sun in their zenith.” In contrast, the natives of countries situated in northern climates are “cold in disposition, and wild in manners, owing to the constant cold.” While the differences between northern and southern climates may seem to stem from differences in temperature and climate, Ptolemy’s descriptions of the differences between eastern and western nations are even more esoteric. Ptolemy claims that “the natives of those countries which lie towards the east excel in courage, acting boldly and openly under all circumstances” since the Sun rises in the east. In contrast, the inhabitants of the west are “wilder, more effeminate and reserved” since the Moon is always seen in the west after the new moon and gives her “feminine and sinister” characteristics to the nations situated west of Alexandria.

These passages show that Ptolemy oriented cultural differences around Alexandria, which he does not describe as having as remarkable or peculiar astrological characteristics. Rather, Alexandria and the Greek empire are seen as culturally unremarkable and neutral because the thema mundi centers on the Greek cultural capital. Ptolemy’s descriptions are not observational but speculative. He placed cultural and ethnic differences into a wider cosmology—race developed from magical or analogical thinking.

Post-Enlightenment, religion and cosmology continued to relay cultural and ethnic differences. Modern race science began as a type of magic or cosmology. Whites continued to describe race in religious and magical terms. Loren Goldner calls the cosmological interpretation of “bodies in space” through Greco-Roman classicism or Judeo-Christian messianism an “epistemological grid.” Race is part of this epistemological grid. Sir William Petty, writing in his book The Scale of Creatures in 1676, speculates that Black people should be categorized somewhere between humans and animals, and he compared them with fantastical creatures such giants and dwarves. Isaac La Preyrere finds evidence in the Bible that there were people who predated Adam, and he speculates that people of color are the descendants of these pre-Adamites. For Roy Harvey Pearce, Indigenous Americans could only be understood through Christianity’s epistemological grid as a malevolent force, because “Satan had possessed the Indian until he became virtually a beast.”

Though race is often contextualized as a modern invention, making it synonymous with science, it has lived a far longer life within cosmology and religion. While race is frequently thought of as a classification system, it begins as a magical system that relies on analogy and not classification. In fact, all political life began as cosmology. Sylvia Wynter writes that:

Greek astronomy was to remain an ethno-astronomy. One, that is, in which the moral/political laws of the Greek polis had been projected upon the physical cosmos, enabling them to serve as ‘objective truth’ in Feyerabend’s (1987) sense of the term, and therefore as, in my own terms, adaptive truth-for the Greeks. With the consequence that their projected premise of a value distinction and principle of ontological distinction between heaven and earth had functioned to analogically replicate and absolutize the central genre-of-the-human distinction at the level of the sociopolitical order, between the non-dependent masters who were Greek-born citizens and their totally dependent slaves classified as barbarian Others. With this value distinction (sociogenic principle of master code of symbolic life/ death) then being replicated at the level of the intra-Greek society, in gendered terms (correlatedly), as between males, who were citizens, and women, who were their dependents.

My motive in writing this book is to ask the question: if astrology is just as speculative as race, can we make it more responsible? Can we use Western astrology to respond to the West? The word responsibility has the word response in it. Responsibility is possible when response is possible. Race and how we construct it have not been responsive to the needs of communities around the world. Rather, race has mainly existed as a paradigm propagated by the West and used to describe the rest of the world. While race science has been central to the establishment of the modern institution, astrology has been regarded by most as a pseudoscience. As a pseudoscience, astrology is a communal practice and a silly one. It follows not only the old adage of “as above, so below,” but also “as below, so above.” The latter adage means that not only do the wider cultural contexts that we project onto virtual images, such as the stars, dictate what meanings we are able to construct from the world, but also that by changing our collective behavior, we are able to change what we see in the stars by changing ourselves.

In order to make astrology a more responsible cultural practice, we must understand how astrological meaning has been constructed within political economic history. We must understand what astrology has to do with courts, militaries, rule, and power— with capital, power, and labor. We must do this so we understand how it exists within neoliberalism, so we are able to make it our own again. A lot of people are surprised when I tell them astrology has lived longer as a right-wing practice than anything left-leaning. I don’t understand why. Adolf Hitler, J. P. Morgan, and Ronald Reagan all used astrology. This didn’t happen because of the funny quirks of a few otherwise rather despicable men, nor is it a funny coincidence. It happens because, due to the nature of astrology’s lineage, like whiteness, it makes itself visible when certain sociopolitical relations are under threat.

The thing is, far from being politically and aesthetically neutral, astrology, like race magic, has been aesthetically connected with classicalism and the manufactured memory of Roman idealism. The West attempts to revive itself again and again through the image of Rome. Modernity, because it is a Western cultural ideal, is also an anachronistic ideal because modern movements and neoclassical movements have so often coincided. The fear of western cultural and racial decay led to a Roman revival in 1800s Austria. Scientists, philosophers, architects, and artists such as Freud, Nietzsche, Wagner, and Klimt all looked to antiquity to revive their contemporary culture, which they saw as in a state of decay. In Roman myths and forms, they saw antiquity as the key to the instinctual impulses of life that had been degraded in their contemporary conditions. For Freud, Oedipus provided the blueprint of the universal man; for Nietzsche, between Apollo and Dionysus lay a primordial tension; for Wagner, classical forms had to be resurrected by the modern style; and for Klimt, the goddess symbolized the principles of eros.

In the American South immediately after the Civil War, former slave owners/human traffickers reasserted America’s cultural lineage through the Roman imagery offered by astrology. Astrologers such as Mark Broughton and schools such as The Order of the Magi emerged out of Confederate anxiety. Astrology tends to revive when whiteness is heightened and threatened, because it is said that the images used within astrology—Jupiter the Benevolent, Venus the Victorious, and the Sun the Enlightened—are Roman. The Nazis loved astrology because it gave them the romantic images they needed to dress up in Roman costumes and Roman phrases. Ideas from ancient Rome about citizenship, land, prosperity, and military might were reinterpreted by the Germans and reconstructed into the modern fascist state. The aesthetic of modern astrology is neoclassical, styled after white marble cut into übermenschen or Aphrodite with wide hips and a high brow. Modern associations of Saturn with citizenship or of the Sun with empire come from romanticism.

Romanticism and classicism are not unique to national socialist Germany. As Marx once said, the French Revolution was conducted “in Roman costumes and with Roman phrases.” The republican- ism of the new American state in the sixteenth century was inspired more by Roman ideals than by Continental or British philosophy. As William B. Warner argues, “Boston leaders like Rev. Johnson Mayhew, James Otis, Jr., Samuel Adams, and his second cousin John Adams developed a Roman republican rather than a French Enlightenment understanding of the character of society.”

The attachment to and idealizing of Roman democracy and republicanism are not contained to the West; they also extend from the West to the rest of the world. Stephen Bronner believes that “Enlightenment thinking remains the best foundation for any genuinely progressive politics not simply in the West but in those states that suffered most at its hands.” In other words, for any postcolonial struggle to be considered “genuine,” it must support the West’s fantasy of itself as the most republican, the most progressive, and the most liberated place in the world. If a political struggle wants to describe its own sense of liberation, it must argue its case in Roman phrases and in Roman costumes, in Roman law and with Roman psychoanalytic theory.

But the Roman costumes and phrases that revolutionaries in France, republicans in the United States, and National Socialists in Germany dressed themselves in are only that—costumes. The attachment of Europe and the United States to Rome is convo- luted. While Germania by the Roman Tacticus was very popular in Germany before World War II, Germania was not written from the point of view of a German extolling Germania for its virtues but by a Roman describing German barbarians for his Roman peers. The national socialists remade Rome in their own image, comparing Hitler to Plato’s philosopher kings. Roman astrology and Greek astrology are not Western, because the West is a modern invention. Rather, Romans and Greeks did not see their astrology as separate from astrologies in Persia, Egypt, and India. The Western geographies most closely associated with Roman genealogy come, in fact, not from Rome, while the geographies that were in the Roman Empire are commonly not considered to be part of the West.

Rather than being based in historical fact, the ability to claim Roman cultural or biological genealogy is an integral part of the storytelling that reinforces the West as a political reality. However, the lines that connect contemporary races to Rome disappear at certain moments, splinter at others, and become one with their parallel reflections at still others. Rome is a speculative story; as Freud wrote, it is a dream within a dream. So is whiteness and so is the West. If whiteness is a dream, then astrology—with all of its anachronistic and weird neoclassicalism—is one of the languages through which that dream speaks itself into being.

An example of how Rome (and with it whiteness) is relayed through astrology: each sign derives meaning from the condition of the planets in those signs. In some signs, planets are considered to be in rulership. In others, the signs opposite to the places of rulership, planets are considered to be in exile, adversity, or antithesis. Planets that are in rulership or are dignified are thought to have the resources they need to express themselves. Planets that are in exile are thought to not have the resources they need to do their jobs. This system of essential dignities comes from Roman citizenship. Roman citizens were represented within the state, while foreigners were always slaves. In a contemporary context, this system makes sense and has modern application precisely because the West has adopted Roman ideals of citizenship in order to ascribe comfort toward some bodies while excluding others, in the words of Sara Ahmed. Astrological ideas about where planets are allowed to be at home are also sociopolitical ideas about who is allowed to be at home.

Whiteness has not disappeared. Whiteness did not die with national socialist Germany and the totalitarianism of the 1900s. It is still a political reality, and as a living political reality, it has learned to adapt and change with the ages. Whiteness is a cosmological reality. Within neoliberalism, neoclassical aesthetics, which continue to influence contemporary astrology through the retelling and revision of myths, also continue to influence how we conduct our courts, our bureaucracies, our militaries, and our prisons.

A lot of people, whether they’re millennials or boomers, white or other, queer or cisnormal, have told me they were rst attracted to astrology because it seems to o er a way to talk among ourselves about ourselves without having to address the trappings of identity. Rather than talking about ourselves within the typical categories of race, gender, and class, people want to build community around identities that feel authentic and close. Astrology fans want identity to be as complex as humanity.

And I’ve seen astrology bring people together. I’ve seen queers relax and smile when their friends tease them for their Moon sign, laughing along with them about being a Leo rising because it makes them feel so seen. I’ve seen sarcastic New York seniors who do not otherwise want to share their stories come together and ask whether we can all talk sincerely with one another about our natal charts. I’ve seen teens who are otherwise self-conscious and guarded about where they are, shielding themselves with fashion or learned academic language, admit that they have a lot of deep feelings as a Scorpio. I’ve seen kids talk about the burdens and joys of being a Capricorn with big dreams, of being an Aquarius who is just the right amount of cynical but with a huge helping of healthy smart-assedness. I’ve seen the request for someone’s Sun, Moon, or rising sign become a tender shorthand for “I’d like to know you better” and the invitation to talking about astrology be shorthand for “I’d like to hear you imagine yourself beyond how I was taught to perceive you.” Through astrology, we are funny, sincere, and vulnerable. We use astrology to see each other.

Astrology occupies a healing role in our communities. Folks come to astrologers when they feel stunted in their careers by their lack of wealth, when they feel stuck in relationships where they are not acknowledged, when they seek to process sexual violence, when they are grieving, and so on. Those seeking astrological counseling trust that their astrologer will not diagnose their problems with the individualized and biological framework offered by the modern psychiatric industry. They understand that the lack of standardization within astrology means that no two astrology readings from different astrologers will be the same. People choose astrologers for their subjectivities. Not all astrologers know what it’s like to experience racism. Not all astrologers understand what it’s like to encounter sexual violence or to realize how normalized this violence is. Not all astrologers want or choose to counsel clients through trauma. If astrology is a mental health profession, then it is an imperfect one, because astrologers ourselves are imperfect. Astrology is a tool through which imperfect people try our best to talk to each other.

There are problems within astrology: where does one’s gender identity fit into the gendered binaries of Venus and Mars? How can we define our abundance away from cultural capitals when the Sun collapses power and wealth into the solitary figure of the sovereign? What kind of Saturn, or government, should we be creating when we feel disillusioned by the prospect of government? Why is the concern of citizenship so related to genealogy? And the most crucial question: why do we keep taking these Greco-Roman ideas and archetypes and applying them to everyone as if they’re really universal and overarching?

But astrology is not alone in its attempts to create universality out of classical aesthetics and a dash of scientific modernity. We don’t understand Greco-Roman emotions to be universal because of astrology; rather, astrology understands Greco-Roman emotions to be universal because so many institutions also do. When we say we are depressed, are we referring to the Latin word deprimere, which not only means “to press down” but is also associated with a lower- ing of economic value? Or are we saying we are melancholic, which is associated with black humor, as if blackness is intrinsically sad or stagnant? When we say we are paranoid, are we really describing ourselves with the Latin terms para, which means “contrary to,” and noos, which means “mind”? Do these Roman concepts of what it means to exist as contrary to one’s own mind in ltrate those of us who do not claim Roman genealogy? When we find that the roots of the words “anxious” and “anger” connect in the Latin word angere, which means “to choke,” do those of us who do not descend from Rome experience anger and anxiety differently, or are these emotions a part of a modernity that has already recreated the world in a pseudo-Roman image? When we use Roman ideas to describe our intimate mental conditions, aren’t we accepting the promise of universality within Western hegemony? Why is it that mental illness can only be seen as a scientific and biological reality instead of a cultural imagining when it is described through Roman words?

Romanization doesn’t just in uence how we talk about emotions; it also in uences how we classify relatedness and genealogy and kin. We call our nonhuman ancestors by their Latin names, nding that they are tetrapods or bipedal, that they are of the Colosteus genus (Colosteus refers to the Latin word colosseus, meaning “gigantic,” and genus means “race, birth, or stock”), and that they are of the Animalia family (Animalia comes from the Latin root ane-, which means “to breathe,” and family refers to the Latin concept of household). We talk about paleolithic times (paleo meaning “stone”) without mean- ing to refer to either Hesiod’s or Virgil’s ages of the metals, in which race is either seen as slowly eroding or revitalizing itself through rebirth. Our intimate connections with family, land, and time— genealogical and historical—have a distinctly Roman avor. This Roman flavor tastes like marble, stripped of color, because only the primitive would ever paint their statues (even though the Romans did paint their statues). It feels like reality.

It appears that the problem of Romanization is not astrology’s problem but the West’s problem. Science and astrology are not dia- metrically opposed. Both of these ideological and spiritual prac- tices attempt to implement Roman symbols into modernity. Both of these practices understand the real as the Roman. I am not against Hellenistic astrology, but to understand the astrological techniques of essential dignity, Caput and Cauda Draconis, planetary detriment or antithesis, Fate and Fortune, and to give these concepts to a client pretending that they are universal truths made real by history is to perpetuate a certain genealogy and, by way of perpetuating a cer- tain genealogy, a certain storytelling. To speak ourselves through these genealogies in order to feel some relief from always, always, having to understand ourselves as sexualized, gendered, raced subjects of someone else’s imagination and to redeem ourselves as human through the archetypes within astrology is not a general or universal or natural move. It’s a specific move, and it must be con- sidered strategically.

The truth is, the thing that is astrology is not what offers healing to astrology fans. The history of astrology developed out of white supremacy and capitalism and patriarchy. The ways that we see Venus and Mars and gender, the ways that Jupiter and Sun and rulership have been de ned, have served power rather than work- ing against it. Astrology, as we have inherited it, does not offer us authentic identity. Astrology o ers us Roman identity, Roman belonging, and Roman humanity.

This is why we must continually work to destroy astrology as we practice it: because we look for identity from it. The reason why astrology, as a subculture, creates beautiful community and spiritual validation is not because there is anything special about such an occult language or because it has the ability to glimpse into one’s being in a way that’s different from other identity lan- guages; it’s because astrology’s practitioners and fans have made it our own. It works not because there is anything magical about the language itself but because the act of not believing readily, of believing where belief has been earned, of listening waywardly, and of owning the magic of illusion making collectively is magic. Astrology is not magic. The community that recreates it in the con- temporary era is.

As a writer, I come from the fandom world, which is a contro- versial storytelling world because the writers tend to be voices who neither get published nor work to learn the tropes that can earn a writer institutional validation. Fanfiction writers are often naive writers because we’re untrained writers. It’s not really an industry, because there is no money in writing fanfiction and because the work itself exists within a legal grey zone. We write with characters who will never belong to us. However, fanfiction continues to stick around despite all those who say it’s too embarrassing and young femmes need to grow out of it. People like fanfiction because it is a space where they can be heard—because it is a community that contests the authority of authorship.

The mass media that the fandom world digests, like the Roman one that the astrological community digests, is not a neutral one. It is a world overpopulated by white men, where women never see or speak to one another, where the binary between homosexuality and heterosexuality makes it seem as though gay people are an entirely separate natural species, where people of color do not exist at all unless they are characterized in supporting or stereotypical ways. This world of images is genealogically related to white supremacist ideologies. Cartoons were originally based on white men satirizing blackness, and early American cinema developed from the minstrel tradition.

Like astrologers—who are often not genealogically related to the Romans but seek to transcend cultural frameworks that are called too naive and too speci c to be studied outside of anthro- pology—fanfiction writers are often not white men, but they often reproduce images of white men in order to tell stories about them- selves. Like astrologers do with their archetypes, fanfiction writers often genderbend or racebend their characters and sometimes make them into inhuman creations or animal hybrids. Like astrologers, fanfiction writers often find their source material less than satisfactory and the available tools used to speculate new realities away from colonized imaginations disappointing. However, fanfiction writers stay in fandom for the same reasons that astrologers stay in astrology: because it feels good to speak to one another, to make inside jokes, because fellow fans and astrologers work to see us when we write stories or horoscope interpretations—because we belong in subculture even when we don’t belong in culture.

What saves astrology from itself today is that it works like the fandom world. It is a community-created subculture that takes what has been mass-produced and digests it. Rather than a consumer-oriented cultural movement, which tends to spike in interest when there are big blockbuster releases from a centralized creative power and ebb after the hype has died down, fandoms that are community-created tend to stay stagnant in terms of capturing interest. After a certain magical point, fandoms are no longer dependent on the canon and function quite well on their own, neither growing nor diminishing in size (the Sailor Moon fandom is a good example of this, if you want to look up the numbers on this topic on tumblr user destinationtoast’s blog). This means we are not out to evangelize or to grow as the capitalists tell us we should be if we are to stay viable. We are out here sharing ideas, healing each other, and inspiring each other on a daily, nonaccumalative, nonaccelerationist scale. There is no central corporation that pumps out astrology books that all of us then follow. Doing astrology simply means we are listening to one another. It means we are being listened to.

From Postcolonial Astrology by Alice Sparkly Kat. Published by North Atlantic Books, copyright © 2021 by Alice Sparkly Kat. Reprinted by permission of publisher.