The first time I met up with the astrologer Chani Nicholas in Los Angeles, in December, it was for a lunch interview. We sipped our drinks and chewed truffle French fries; I asked questions and she answered them. The conversation flowed easily. We laughed a lot.
It was a good interview, by all accounts, but it went slightly sideways in a way I had never experienced.
After I had turned off my recorder and paid the bill and packed my things and arranged for my exit, she turned the tables on me. “I looked at your chart again,” she said. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Ms. Nicholas, like my mother, my crush and the D.M.V., knows the exact date, time and place of my birth. We had met twice before: at the brunch of a mutual friend, where I gave her this information, raw from a breakup and looking for any kind of salve, and then, briefly, at a coffee shop to talk about it.
So when I received a copy of her new book, “You Were Born for This: Astrology for Radical Self-Acceptance,” she had tabbed all the portions that related to my birth chart: sun in Scorpio (I am passionate), moon in Taurus (I am deeply emotional), rising sign, or ascendant, in Scorpio (I am passionate about all my emotions).
Thus began the part of the interview that was about me, which I loved. In March of this year, she told me, I will begin my Saturn return, an astrological period in a person’s life that initially occurs between the ages of 27 and 29, when Saturn returns to the planetary position it occupied when you were born, as measured in part through astrological charts.
Saturn returns have a reputation for being chaotic and messy, but they are, more accurately, a time of immense change, however disruptive. Still, every time I drop a glass or miss a bus, I think: this is it, the stars and planets have begun to test me.
My return is concentrated in the fourth house of my chart, Ms. Nicholas said, which is related to parents, home and foundations, and should last until this fall.
Inasmuch as astrology is a chicken-and-egg scenario — will I experience changes in my relationship with my parents and in my home because of Saturn or because I’m 28 and my lease is almost up, who is to say? — Ms. Nicholas’s words still covered me in a sheen of being known.
And being known, or at least, being treated as knowable and worth knowing, is the most comforting thing in the universe.
Astrology Is Everywhere
I’ve heard two main criticisms of astrology: that it’s fake and that it’s narcissistic. Many things are both, but astrology seems to bear the brunt of all this ire. A friend of mine always says that “astrology is fake until it’s real” — that is, until it confirms a presupposition or dovetails with a future outcome. (Yes, she’s a Gemini.)
But I never gave it much thought until I came out as queer a few years ago, and found that my new dating scene was populated with people asking not just “What’s your sign?” but for my whole astrological chart. Over time, I have found it to be a useful organizing system toward self-definition and a fun way to deploy memes.
The rise of astrology, especially among the internet generation, has been widely chronicled (it travels because we love archetypes, it’s easier to understand because we love apps, it’s popular because we are all miserable).
But Ms. Nicholas, 44, and other socially conscious astrologers, manage to sidestep the individualized self-obsession of it, which can easily venture into amateur self-analysis and endless confirmation bias. She approaches it more as a system of encouragement toward living a life in accordance with one’s skill sets and values.
To that end, her book isn’t prescriptive. It doesn’t arbitrate exact personality traits based on astrological signs.
Instead, it consists of a series of prompts meant to help readers interrogate notions about themselves and make practical decisions for their futures, albeit with the help of some guidelines based on patterns and myths associated with various sun, moon and rising signs.
It’s a self-help manual mixed with a more practical, self-determining career guide — a kind of “What Color Is Your Parachute?” for those seeking their place or purpose in the 21st century.
And it looks like a New Age workbook: The title is rendered on the cover in 1970s-influenced typography, with glittering letters that look like a rainbow refracted through light.
The book is divided into three groovy sections that offer advice on determining your life’s purpose, which is ruled by your sun sign; your emotional and physical needs, which correspond with your moon; and your motivation and drive, steered by your ascendant planet.
“Astrology is a relentless reminder that we are the way we are on purpose,” Ms. Nicholas writes.
Each section includes affirmations and reflection questions based on each sign: “Do people tell you that you intimidated them when you first met?” “Are you constantly looking for the ulterior motive of a person or situation?”
Ms. Nicholas sees her work as part of a historical continuum. “We’ve made myths out of the sky forever,” she said, citing ancient drawings of the Pleiades constellation, and the many religious traditions that coincide with or happen around new and full moons.
She makes her living doing astrology readings and workshops, priced from $28 to $44, and through online courses and her newsletter. Her bigger mission is to tie an understanding of astrology today with social consciousness: how we are interrelated and what we owe each other, how our lives are in conjunction with the universe. Ms. Nicholas often integrates current events into her readings and newsletter, which reaches more than 200,000 people.
Or she spurs her hundreds of thousands of followers into passionate action or agreement on social media. In September: “It’s Friday the 13th. It’s a full Moon. Polish your cauldron. Wands at the ready. Sacrifice an ex. Hex the patriarchy. Burn capitalism to the ground. HARNESS THE POWER OF NATURE TO BANISH ALL SYSTEMS THAT ALLOW CORPORATE GREED TO MAKE A PROFIT FROM THE DESTRUCTION OF THE EARTH.”
Ms. Nicholas was born in Nelson, British Columbia, into an upbringing that she describes as a cross between “a Neil Simon play and ‘The Trailer Park Boys.’” Many of her neighbors were Americans who, opposed to the Vietnam War, had crossed the border and settled into the small, isolated enclave.
She describes her hometown as hedonistic. “Rules and regulations did not apply,” she said. “Everyone was allowed to create their own identity.”
Unlike others in her town, Ms. Nicholas did not see this as ideal, enduring a childhood she said was filled with violence and drugs and disruption. (She writes in the book that she knew what cocaine tasted like by the time she was 5.)
But the chaos also ushered in her first brush with mysticism: One day, a strange woman looked up her birth chart and told Ms. Nicholas that she was very judgmental.
“I had no idea what that word actually meant,” Ms. Nicholas writes in her book, “but I immediately resonated with what it implied. She was distinguishing me from my surroundings. She saw that I possessed the kind of discernment that others around me lacked. I had judgment and, with it, I would find a way out of this mess.”
After her father remarried, Ms. Nicholas began spending time in Toronto, where her new step-grandmother, a reiki master, lived. Ms. Nicholas ended up apprenticing with her in the practice, which is a healing technique based on energy movement.
She traveled after high school, before landing back in Toronto and attending a women’s and children’s counselor advocate program, or “lesbian finishing school,” as she put it. She worked at an L.G.B.T.Q. hotline doing community work, and acted on the side.
Her first time in Los Angeles was the day she moved there, in 2005, with $1,200 and an ability to drive on the highway. (“I knew one route to the beach: Laurel Canyon to Sunset for Santa Monica, then take Santa Monica all the way over,” she said. “It took me like an hour and a half.”)
She tried out an acting career, landing a few auditions, but quit before she could get bitter. She started yoga teacher training and met her future wife, Sonya Priyam Passi, who is the founder and chief executive of FreeFrom, a nonprofit that supports those who have experienced domestic violence. In between all this, Ms. Nicholas started writing horoscopes.
“My way of learning has always been astrologically,” she said. “It’s the only way that I really know how to write, or it was the only way that I could figure out how to express myself because, at that time, I’d only been exposed to people who like astrology who were kind of West Side L.A. woo-woo types, and not at all interested in understanding their privilege.”
She wanted her approach to be different. “I’ve always been really sensitive to what isn’t right, and why, and who’s at fault, and feeling a need to figure that out,” she said.
After starting to write horoscopes for friends and family, sent via email, Ms. Nicholas started posting them on her Blogspot, then on a website of her own.
She began offering workshops on astrological happenings — “The Year Ahead for Your Sign,” “Your Money: Understanding the Power of Your Assets, Resources and Talents” — and Spotify playlists tailored to each sun sign, each costing $10 to $50. (The collaboration with Spotify has also included a number of events, including one last February in which Ms. Nicholas gave Lizzo a reading onstage.)
Ms. Nicholas said, at this point, more than a million people regularly visit her website.
Her idea for the book came through her interest in teaching. Ms. Nicholas didn’t want to tell people how to deal with a Taurus roommate or an Aries ex. She wanted to offer tangible skills to guide people toward their best life.
Despite the popularity of her earnest and sometimes impassioned approach in combining current events and news analysis with star movements, Ms. Nicholas briefly considered giving up astrology after the 2016 election, convinced there were better ways she could be spending her time.
But she realized that she was, indeed, just following her calling, and that she was exactly where she needed to be. “This is my tool set, and if it offends you, then I hope you find the things that do feel affirming to you,” she said.
The Known and the Unknowable
The final time Ms. Nicholas and I met in Los Angeles, we went for a walk on the beach, where we took in a delicious sunset and Ms. Nicholas explained to me how transcendent and sublime it is to have a wife, and how she knows I want one too, because of my Taurus moon.
She was clear that she doesn’t see herself as a psychic or a fortune teller, and wasn’t telling me what to do (although she’s right about the wife thing): Any predictive sense she has about the future is based on a pre-existing structures and patterns — sort of like a Farmer’s Almanac but mystical.
She noted that Christine Blasey Ford’s September 2018 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee occurred during a Venus retrograde.
“Because Venus represents women and the feminine, whenever it goes retrograde, we can usually expect something to come up into public consciousness about gender,” Ms. Nicholas said.
It is the same with the Mars retrograde, which she said spurs conflict, and occurred during the 2016 election; it will happen again in September, she said. She integrated that analysis into her newsletter.
“To write about it is not to be able to solve, and not be able to make it right, but it’s to say, this is happening, this is alive in both our collective experience and most likely most of our personal experiences,” she told me.
“My work — every horoscope, all of it — is just me talking to myself,” she said. “I guess I need to always know that I’m not in it alone.”