As a child, Chani Nicholas dreamed about the planets.
“In my stepfamily, I had people who were like, ‘You know, that’s not normal,’” she said. “And I’d be like, ‘What do you mean it’s not normal? I met Neptune last night.’”
Over the years, Nicholas became more deeply entrenched in the world of astrology as she navigated jobs working in community centers, an LGBTQ hotline and various roles counseling people and families. Astrology always seemed to go hand-in-hand with this kind of healing and person-focused work, she said. Now it’s her full-time job.
Nicholas, who has become a powerhouse in the world of astrology, said she started having an intimate connection to the heavenly bodies orbiting the sun at a young age. She received her first “profound reflection of [her]self” through a quick reading of her birth chart at the age of 8, then got her first full astrological reading when she was 12.
“It just floored me,” she said. “It was like a full-on awakening of sorts.”
Nicholas sees astrology as a tool to help people make choices in their personal and professional lives, something that can be used in tandem with therapy and other more traditional avenues for self-improvement. She talked with HuffPost about how astrology has shaped her life and how she believes it can help people who want to work toward a more equitable future.
So many people do say that astrology is a sham. How do you respond to that?
I have family members that feel like that about me. And the funny thing is, they literally have no idea what astrology is. They’re just reacting from this very old, old fear. And for me, I know that as a Jew, when I’m in a Jewish community, it’s like this very old religious sentiment that comes in. And yet there are very famous rabbinical astrologers. ... And in Judaism, and in all different backgrounds and ways of being that have had to become more conservative, there is a historical fear in people. I get it. I just don’t take it personally. I’m just like, “That’s cute. But you literally couldn’t tell me what astrology is.”
So you can hate things, and you can fear things. But unless you really understand them, we can’t have a conversation actually.
It comes from a place of fear?
It’s fear of the supernatural, which is actually just fear of self. Because astrology isn’t outside of us. No divination process is outside of us. In fact, divination practices are literally embedded into every single culture on the planet. It’s how human beings have always made meaning. We’ve looked at tea leaves, and the way clouds are formed, and this light at night, and the stars and the planets, and also the way a cow shits on the ground. All those things had meanings. We’re always looking to see what nature was telling us. And we always interpreted it. So it’s literally everywhere.
But when that turn came, when the whole religiosity kind of bore down on queerness, on femininity, on the Earth, when we had to start to separate ourselves from what actually holds power because it was deemed evil, then that’s when the split and the divide comes in every form and shape.
I’m thinking that a queer future is one that ― wherever we are, whatever region we’re in ― the people who are on the margins, the people who have had to face the most systemic injustice and violence, [can] be brought into the center. And that the leadership comes from that place.
What is astrology for you, on a personal level?
Astrology to me is, and has always been, a really good friend. It’s also been a really good counselor, and a really good intermediary between me and my life’s events. It’s a way for me to contextualize what is occurring in my life. And of course, when the shit hits the fan and things get really difficult, it’s really consoling, though it doesn’t take the pain away or it doesn’t negate the work that I have to personally do.
Before I went into my late 20s, early 30s, I knew I was going to go into my Saturn return. I knew what that was going to be about for me. I didn’t know exactly how it would work out. But going through the experience, I had the framework, I had the language, I had that to hold me through it. And so every experience I had, I could be like, “Yep, that’s what this is. That totally matches that thing.” And so A, this is a wild time, but B, it also matches the archetypal experience that we’re supposed to go through, that I’m supposed to go through.
It’s really hard to know that our pain will subside at some point if we don’t seek the healing that we need and do the work necessary. Astrology doesn’t relieve us from that pain. It doesn’t do the work of the healing. But it does tell us when things might subside. And I know that if I do my work with it, it’ll become a really important turning point for me.
You seem to approach astrology from a queer, feminist lens. In your opinion, is astrology an inherently feminist queer practice?
I don’t think it is. And I say that because Ronald Reagan had an astrologer that he used. Nancy Reagan was all into it, and they used it really well. And he might be one of the people we can point to in recent history to say, “What does an anti-queer regime look like?” And that’s one of them for sure. So, astrology is a tool, and you can use that tool for whatever purposes. If I wanted to look up a chart that would help me to do the most harm possible, I could do that.
But, I am coming from a queer, feminist lens. And I am translating the astrology through that. ... If as an astrological community, we aren’t talking about systems of oppression and how they impact people and individuals, then we’re not really serving as much of the population as we could. We might just be serving the more privileged of the population that we are reflecting.
Watch Nicholas at the Chicago Humanities Festival’s Fallfest in November 2017:
How can astrology change people’s lives?
Astrology can change people’s lives in as much as people are willing to do the work that is necessary for them to change their own life. So astrology can, again, give us that reflection that maybe nobody has.
When I got my first reading, no one else in my entire life had ever looked at me and said, “I see you. And this is you. Let me give you a picture of yourself.” And it was like life-altering. But if I would have not done anything with that, then it would have been an experience that was important to me but not actually life-changing. So then it was up to me to find out how to get into therapy, how to do all the things that I needed to do personally in order to survive and then to thrive. So astrology is like an entry point. It’s like a gateway drug to ... I think Chris Brennan said that horoscopes are a gateway drug to astrology. But astrology’s a gateway drug to doing the healing work that’s necessary for us to do.
Astrology can change people’s lives in as much as people are willing to do the work that is necessary for them to change their own life.
Our overarching theme for our Pride month coverage this year is #TheFutureIsQueer. What does a queer and inclusive future would look and feel like to you?
I’m thinking that a queer future is one that ― wherever we are, whatever region we’re in ― the people who are on the margins, the people who have had to face the most systemic injustice and violence, [can] be brought into the center. And that the leadership comes from that place. So I’m talking about a world that is addressing and healing anti-blackness, transphobia, the violence that has been done against for centuries to all aboriginal communities and first nations communities, really addressing and having leadership from the folks who have historically been disenfranchised in these unjust systems and having queer leadership that looks very different than what we’ve had thus far.
And also just the recognition of the work that black and brown and indigenous folks, especially queer, especially trans, two-spirited, have done and have always been doing, the centuries of work and love and care that they’ve brought into our communities and communities in general, and just the talent and the time and the labor.
Pride often just makes me so sad because of the way it’s just taken over by the same systems that has been battling against.
Pride often just makes me so sad because of the way it’s just taken over by the same systems that we have been battling against. And I’m sick of it; I think a lot of people are. ... We need to get back to something more grassroots. We need to get back to what it was about. And when I say we, I’m talking through a North American kind of lens, so I also don’t know what the rest of the world needs. I want to think globally. ... What has been covered over, what has been forgotten, what has been erased, and how do we bring that back and center it and say, “Wow, let’s lead from this place,” or, “Let’s go forward from here.”
I see a queer future as one that does not replicate the inequities of the past.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
For LGBTQ Pride 2018, HuffPost is highlighting 30 different cultural influencers who have shifted the narrative when it comes to queer issues and whose work has contributed to building a more inclusive and equitable future for us all.