Interview with Astrologer Chani Nicholas

Editor Staff, Interview, August 7th, 2017

"We have to centralize those that are most marginalized in our struggles."

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Center the Margins: Astrologer Chani Nicholas on Ancestry, Race, and Acknowledging the Moment

This interview was conducted by Maiga Milbourne, and has been condensed and edited.

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As Astrologer Chani Nicholas and I were speaking, Trump had just pulled the US from the Paris Accords. The grief and outrage pouring from social media was fresh on my mind.

Since the election, this is not uncommon. Following a long lineage of seekers struggling to make sense of the chaos of our experience, I, and roughly 200,000 readers a week turn to Chani.

NAILED MAGAZINE: One of the things that interests me about your work is that it’s both very immediate– the planets as they’re interacting in this particular moment– but it’s also very ancient and far-reaching.

CHANI NICHOLAS: Everything is about timing. As an astrologer, you have a perspective that tells you that things will change because you can see the patterns coming up in the future.

The temporality is really fascinating because [it] is [itself] another art form. [Many] different spiritual disciplines create art out of substances that will blow away or get washed away. It’s the discipline of doing something for the sake of that moment and then it’s gone.

One of my colleagues, Barry Perlman says “it’s like a zen exercise.” You put all this effort, time, labor, and physical energy into writing one horoscope for one week. Twelve times twelve [horoscopes] for every week of the year. Every moment, every astrological signature is a wave that rises and then falls. As an astrologer, I want to meet them.

NAILED: Do you feel like you’re working traditionally as an astrologer? 

NICHOLAS: It’s really important to me to understand the roots of whatever I do, the peoples and the places on the earth that these practices come from. If I’m going to study and devote my life to something then I want to understand the ancestors that carried it forward. Studying astrology’s giant, vast history has been really important for me. It isn’t easily summed up, because it incorporates a lot of peoples, cultures, and religions. But I get off on the complexity of it.

As a Jew, I was excited to learn that some Rabbis that have been quoted for a long time in Judaism, were also astrologers. I had to learn that through my astrological teachers, because in modern day Jewish culture astrology is often looked down upon. Being able to connect myself to my astrological work through my religious and cultural background is important to me.

NAILED: What was the work like for the astrologers for various moments in time?

NICHOLAS: It depends on what culture and time frame we’re looking at. The lineage of western astrology is very broken and fragmented. One empire would be colonized by another and the astrology would be utilized by that governing power or have to go underground here and there. One culture would pillage and ransack another they would steal the knowledge of that culture, and part of the knowledge was, for a very long time, the astrology of those people. What we call traditional western astrology was mostly hidden from us for years. The way astrology has been practiced has varied over the span of about 2,000 years. Sometimes it was an integral part of the culture and sometimes it was something that was pushed to the margins.

NAILED: The lineage question has particular bearing on race especially as it’s playing out in the west right now. As white people wielding white privilege and trauma, what does it look like to resituate ourselves in lineage, culture, and spirituality?

NICHOLAS: Those of us that have white privilege have a profound responsibility to dismantle and work towards healing the effects, both internal and external, of white supremacy. It is a deep and disturbing wound that we have inherited and it is of absolute importance that we engage with it, interrogate it, acknowledge it, talk about it, read about it, that we are the student of the effects of it. White supremacy touches everything– destroys and poisons everything on this planet. We can link it to every other oppression. But it is something that white people have such a violent reaction to when told that they benefit from it. The benefits of white privilege create a bubble that people that benefit from it get to live within. White folks are mostly so resistant to addressing it, and so adamant to holding on to this kind of power, this weapon that causes such incredible destruction. The kind of destruction that folks with white privilege never have to understand if they don’t actively try to. It is our greatest spiritual corruption—made stronger by intersecting with sexism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and the degradation of the earth.

We have to centralize those that are most marginalized in our struggles. [Those of us with privilege] can ignore [the suffering of others] if we want because that’s what privilege lets us do. But privilege only makes us more vulnerable to the spiritual corruption that is apathy– it inhibits our growth.

NAILED: What has the response been to your writing on whiteness?

NICHOLAS: I get a lot of emails from white people that are enraged asking me “how dare you tell me I’m a bad person.” I get a lot of white tears. It is always disheartening in terms of the powerful resistance to reflection that privilege engenders. I often wonder, “What is it that will get through?” The ego rages anytime it feels attacked. It wants to set every reflection on fire.

A lot of people unfollow me, get very angry with me, and disappointed in me. I’m always honored when someone is disappointed in me because who the hell did you think I was? I’m just a person. And also, great, let’s talk about that. What did you expect? That I was here just to make you feel good? What was it that disappointed you?

NAILED: Was there a point in your life when you were unconscious about systems of oppression and were brought into consciousness and contextualized within them?

NICHOLAS: Because I have white privilege I have been able to, at certain points in my life, be engaged with trying to deconstruct systems of oppression and then not be. I have cis privilege, I have ability privilege, I have the privilege of growing up in Canada with health care and education, I have privilege in many different ways. Over the course of my life I’ve been able to be deeply engaged with activism and then because of my privilege I’ve been able to step back and do deep healing work on myself and not be engaged in the world. I’m not proud of my disengagement and I recognize that I got to do that because I could. Because of my privilege. We all need time out once in awhile, but we don’t all get to take it.

I don’t think that we are really healing ourselves unless or until our healing leads us to some kind of justice work, and hopefully our justice work leads us to some kind of healing.

I always think, especially in America, that ancestry is such an important thing to investigate. Folks with white privilege must make it our work in some way to say “[white supremacy is] making me and the rest of this world deeply unwell. It is my responsibility to try and heal this. To try and create some kind of justice. Otherwise it just gets passed on and on and on. This needs to stop with me.”

You said, when we were talking about whiteness earlier, that my comments felt like “a balm.” I think it feels like a balm because when we grow up in dysfunction–when we hear someone say “what happened to you isn’t OK and that was cruel and that was abuse”–we feel soothed. If we’re not defensive and too connected to our fragility and we’re ready to do something, when all of the ills of white supremacy are articulated it feels like a relief because we’re like “I knew something was deeply wrong!” We have to be able to label it and witness it in order to heal from it.

I talk with white people all the time that are always like “I don’t have a lineage of my own so it’s OK if I am culturally appropriative. I need this headdress!!” No! You have a lineage! That’s your goldmine! Your lineage is connected to all kinds of things that make you uncomfortable, ashamed, and repelled. It’s your job to make use of it. To look in the face of your shame, of your family, and see what is yours to heal. Expose it and work to heal it and see what else can come from it. See what can come from the truth.


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maiga milbournePassionate about healthy bodies and communities, Maiga Milbourne is a E-RYT vinyasa yoga instructor, avid traveler, retreat developer, activist, and creative writer. Maiga has thousands of hours teaching yoga to students of varying mobilities in a multitude of spaces. In February 2016 she studied Jivamukti yoga at Radhanath Swami’s ashram outside of Mumbai, India. Maiga has been published in The Yoga Diaries anthology, featured in The Feminist Wire, and Chrysalis JournalMaiga met her husband as a fellow activist doing work against mass incarceration and behalf of political prisoners. She and her husband are slowly converting their suburban backyard into a permaculture-influenced food forest. Join her on retreat to Portugal this September 2017! Learn more at her website, here.

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astrologer Chani NicholasChani Nicholas has been a student of astrology for over 30 years and a counseling astrologer for 20. Many of her ideas, philosophies, and concepts have been and are constantly shaped by LGBTQI2S, POC, feminist writers, artists, thinkers, activists, and community members as well as by her many brilliant colleagues and students. She aims to make astrology by making it practical, approachable, and useful. Visit her website, here.

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Staff

More than one editor and/or contributor was responsible for the completion of this piece on NAILED.