Clare Marcie is a writer and emerging astrologer. She's previously written for Ensemble about being a 'twinless twin'.
On Sunday the 5th of November, I took a bus to the North Shore, and headed to the Northcote Senior Citizens House for a meeting of the Astrology Foundation of New Zealand.
As I entered, I was greeted by a friendly white-haired man, and directed to put my name on a list. No pen in sight, I pulled out my own, and wrote down my name.
Soon I was introduced to a fellow first timer – Sharon – and we headed tentatively to the kitchen, using an old school hot water Zip to fill up cups of tea, before settling into some astrology chat ahead of the AGM.
I’ve been harbouring an accidental obsession with astrology since 2018, during my Saturn return (the first time that Saturn returns to the point in the sky where it was when you were born). And I’ve been meaning to attend this gathering for some time (an astrologer I admire – Chris Brennan – actively encourages getting involved in local astrology meetups). But it’s been a while since I went to a meeting as a complete stranger, and the pandemic hasn’t helped with my awkwardness around social events.
Also, a quick perusal of the Astrology Foundation of NZ website makes it clear that these folks aren’t the most internet savvy. Perhaps they’ve cancelled the meeting but not updated the website? Excuses just kept rolling in.
I find it easier to engage with niche communities online. People can be messy and hard to predict, but behind a screen, with the power to close a tab at any moment, you can be more in control. I also think there’s something about getting older that makes it harder to take leaps, or risk the discomfort of entering new spaces, connecting with new people.
The Astrology Foundation of NZ was started 40 years ago, and on the day I attended a meeting, it had a quality of the Vicar of Dibley about it. Black and white photos pinned to a noticeboard, cakes and tea in the kitchen, worn velvety cushions identical to the ones my grandma used to have at her house.
The AGM began, with the current president (the white-haired man from earlier) reading out minutes from the previous meeting and following various formal protocols and procedures. There was a mixture of attendees, but the ones who seemed the most embedded in the organisation were mostly female, pakeha and skewed towards the older generation.
When I was a teenager, my mum explained to me how invisible she felt in retail shops as a middle-aged woman. Since then, and due to the passage of time, I’ve seen how much we obsess culturally over youth, over ‘newness’, and how often we forget about folks, especially women, once they pass a certain age. There is a dance to be choreographed, I believe, between the different generations. An exchanging of different kinds of skills and knowledge, a mutual, reciprocal, sharing of space and stories.
During the AGM I sensed some frustration amongst the leadership regarding their desire for younger folks to get involved, and as a younger attendee I moved uneasily in my seat, wanting to interject that this was my first time ever attending. My new friend lent over in the break, whispering that in her experience, it’s best to avoid joining committees if you can, which endeared me to her even more.
Astrology is creeping more and more into the zeitgeist. It’s lightheartedly referenced by podcasters, people share memes on social media, and even in NZ’s latest season of Celebrity Treasure Island, a Sagittarius alliance was formed (no surprise that they were all comedians – a very Sag vibe).
While it’s often sneered at and dismissed as a shallow form of personality typing (sometimes for good reason), the deeper I’ve delved, the more I’ve discovered the rich complexities and long, winding history of astrology as both a fascinating and subversive ancient technology.
Initially drawn in by the social activism and captivating insights of LA-based astrologer Chani Nicholas, I’m part of a new wave of astro-curious folks who are discovering the potential for astrology to be used as a tool for self compassion and spirituality that isn’t bound up in the monotheistic patriarchal structures of many organised religions in the west.
I was raised in the Catholic Church, which has baked into its philosophy a foundational belief that we are all born sinners. Astrology doesn’t make such an assumption.
When I look at my chart (when I finally found out my correct birth time) , I see where I have challenges and gifts that are hyper specific to me. I have found that the metaphors provided to me by astrologers have helped me to understand myself and also the natural world, with more openness.
Just to know when the moon is full and to make a point of looking at it feels like a more grounded spirituality than sitting on uncomfortable wooden pews and half-heartedly droning along to lifeless songs.
To be fair, astrology hasn’t escaped patriarchy. It exists within the culture of its time, and so it often reflects back the cultural norms and values of the day, for better and for worse. After all, humans are astrologers, and so we will naturally filter our insights imperfectly.
But there’s something to be said for a system that doesn’t require us to worship and revere a singular immortal bearded sky daddy, who goes by Him with a capital H – a gendering I’ve hated since childhood. To quote Alice Sparkly Kat’s excellent book Postcolonial Astrology, “Doing astrology simply means we are listening to one another. It means we are being listened to.”
And to be clear, I’m not interested in converting anyone. Ultimately how we engage in our spiritual lives is a highly personal decision. How boring the world would be if we all followed the same set of spiritual/religious practices. But for some reason, astrology’s my jam.
I’m increasingly inspired by the way that astrology can be used like a filter, or lens through which to observe all sorts of social events – from shifting fashion trends to major world events, as well as being used by individuals as a way to feel seen and witnessed by the planets in the sky and their positions at the moment of our arrival here on earth. Astrologers are often amateur cultural historians, observing patterns and tracking planetary transits.
At the Astrology Foundation meeting in Northcote, it was hard to gauge who in the room was a practising astrologer, and who was simply an enthusiastic amateur. No one wore any notably cosmic clothing, no velvet cloaks or T-shirts patterned with stars and moons.
Looking about, it struck me that this could have been a gathering for many other interests. A book club perhaps, or a crafting club. Everyone looked pretty ordinary, really. Many of the women reminded me of aunts or grandparents.
But then, astrology is one of those woolly pursuits that can’t really be carved up into such binary categories. While it did once occupy a place within higher learning institutions, it has long been excluded from formal education institutions. To be an astrologer is to be self-taught, or a student of the internet, or both.
After the tea break, one of the members – a grandmotherly figure named Colleen – presented a long winded talk about the beginning and ending degrees in the houses of the natal chart, which included sharing personal stories from her own family. At one point she referenced the chart of one of the co-founders of the foundation, who’d recently passed. There was palpable grief in the room.
Though I’d never met Hamish, when I saw his chart I felt a quiet loss as well. Based on some of his planetary placements, I could tell that if we’d met , we’d most likely have been fast friends.
I think often people become astrologers, or study astrology, due to some kind of stressful, traumatic experience. We search for a different language to express how we feel. Alice Sparkly Kat writes “When you decide to become an astrologer, you’re probably making this decision because you went through some harrowing crisis.”
My Saturn return was a long, tough period of doors getting slammed in my face and a never ending parade of reality checks. It was during this period that I went into therapy, binge-read stacks of self-help books and eventually encountered astrology as a framework to help me understand what I’d been going through. Astrology locates you in time and space, and acknowledges that you’re part of something larger. It provides a language with which to better understand, and make sense of, our experiences.
When Colleen spoke about astrological insights in relation to people she knew, something opened up for me, something I’m still trying to articulate about why I love astrology so much.
No chart is any better or worse than any other. Or rather, every chart is entirely unique. In this way, astrology is a sort of equaliser. Every life is rich with myriad stories. When I’ve done readings for folks who are discovering astrology for the first time, I remind them that they are the experts on their lives. They’ve always had their birth chart, they just haven’t looked at it or spoken to someone about it before. It’s another language to articulate the story of our lives.
When Colleen spoke about her family, and about her recently departed friend, it was with this mixture of fascination, compassion and respect. Astrology is a kind of witnessing, and valuing of the complex experience of life.
It’s a reassurance, like when my friend Sharon realised that I have transiting Pluto atop my natal Saturn and could recognise the intensity of that particular transit. It’s a way of seeing, a way of viewing our lives, from the vantage point of the planets. It’s a recognition that the Earth is one planet participating within a larger solar system.
There was something in that hall in Northcote, on that Sunday afternoon, that filled me up. To gather as a group because of a shared passion for something that’s mostly been hidden, outside of the mainstream, and dismissed. The people were kind and curious. Even before officially confirming we’d become members, myself and Sharon were both handed a copy of their latest NZ Journal of Astrology.
Astrology has had a long history of entering and exiting the mainstream. At one point in history royal families consulted closely with astrologers, while at another time astrologers were seen as a religious threat, and their work was outlawed.
But for 40 years, the folks of the Astrology Foundation NZ have been learning and connecting as astrologers way before there were comedic memes or celebrity astrologers sharing their takes on TikTok. Not to dismiss the beauty of a well-timed astrology meme, or indeed a celebrity astrologer (I’m certainly a devotee of Chani’s work).
After spending most of my time learning about astrology on my own, attending the Astrology Foundation meeting was a big step for me, and one that painted a clearer picture of the nicheness of the astrology community in NZ, but also the warmth and uniqueness of those who’ve devoted their time to a practice that’s not always been so popular. It took a willingness to feel awkward, but that was a small price to pay.
I’ve paid my membership fee, and I’ll continue attending meetings and reading their journals. I want to connect with other people who love this world as much as myself, and I enjoy learning from other people's perspectives, especially the folks who were into this before it was ‘cool’. I also have my own private astrology club which I run with a group of curious friends, and I suspect there are many of these around the country.
There’s something to be said for connecting with local strangers when you have an interest in common. It’d be so easy for me to stay online, or to bury my nose in another book. But there’s a kind of chemical reaction when we meet with others in person, and I want to discover where I might agree and disagree with those who’ve been engaged with astrology for so much longer than me.
I won’t be overly reverent, because I’ve learnt that age doesn’t always equate with wisdom, but I am curious, and excited, to learn more from this collective who’ve been meeting for longer than I’ve been alive.