Subversive Stargazer

Rob Brezsny turns astrology into performance art

| September-October 1997

  • zodiac

    Image by Flickr user: Remko van Dokkum / Creative Commons

  • zodiac

Aquarian readers of Rob Brezsny’s Real Astrology column got a special invitation in January. “Find or create a symbol of your greatest pain,” Brezsny wrote. “Mail it to me. I will then conduct a sacred ritual of purification during which I will burn that symbol to ash.”

Some 900 readers responded, cramming the astrologer’s San Rafael, California, mail drop with everything from drawings and love letters to a Jack Daniels bottle and a pair of real owl wings. The wings, Brezsny explains, represented the correspondent’s sense of “always being watched.”

Several months later, the column carried a report on the raging bonfire Brezsny set on a Marin County beach: “I begged the Goddess to release you from the karma that brought you the pain.”

Sipping pink lemonade in the house he shares with his wife, Ro Loughran, and 6-year-old daughter, Zoe, on a quiet suburban street north of San Francisco, Brezsny expresses great satisfaction with this well-received piece of astrological performance art. A number of his readers, he says, wrote to say their pain was gone.

For Brezsny, a shaggy-haired Texas native who has been writing his weekly column for the past 19 years, that sort of interaction with his public is its own karmic reward. With a blend of spontaneous poetry, feisty politics, and fanciful put-on, Brezsny breathes new life into the tabloid mummy of zodiac advice columns. Real Astrology runs in 103 alternative newspapers, from Anchorage to Miami, with a combined circulation in the neighborhood of 4 million.

In the course of a single, 12-sign column Brezsny might riff to his Capricorn readers on the glories of silk worms; advise Sagittarians to dispense with jewelry, tight clothing, and “constricted expectations” for the month; evaluate the San Francisco 49ers’ top draft choice; and get in a dig at Donald Trump. Behind all the quirky metaphors and topical patter, however, lies a serious intent. When Brezsny asks Cancerian men to wear veils on International Women’s Day or proposes “brag therapy” weeks for Leos, he’s really challenging readers to subvert the assumptions that govern their lives more firmly than any stars. Conventional astrology columns “reinforce reality,” Brezsny argues, “and try to get people to adjust to the ghastly limitations of civilization. My intention is exactly the opposite. The ultimate political act is to overthrow perceptions of reality.”

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