Opening of a new book is a very intimate act. It feels a little like going through someone’s private things: the collections of memories, fears, and imperfections. You get to know the author by the bits of naked skin that peek through the white pages of her/his oeuvre.
I have always imagined writers to be gods, and – not surprisingly – I wanted to become one. Putting words on paper and then seeing them in their final, polished form still give me goosebumps. Even today, in the digital era of e-books and online magazines, the scent of fresh print is as intoxicating as that of fresh lilacs in the spring. Karl Lagerfeld is known for saying that the best smell in the world is that of a newly purchased book.
A fearless novelist and Commonwealth short-story prizewinner, Eliza Robertson and her novel Demi-gods take ‘intimate’ to a new level, with its beautifully written prose, sometimes reminiscent of poetry. I caught up with Eliza to discuss her other creative passion – astrology – making her even less human in my eyes – only in the good, magical sense, of course.
Alex: People have a strange relationship with stars: they either trust them blindly, or their approach to anything astrology-related borders on hostility. How is it with you: do you choose pre-destination or free will?
Eliza: I believe in free will. Many people describe the natal chart (birth chart) as a map. But you shouldn’t confuse the map for the territory! The placement of planets at the time of your birth suggests the areas of focus: your possible gifts and your challenges. But the chart is always mitigated by the socio-cultural realities. And we can roam off trail.
Cassius, the character of Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’, says: “The problem, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves that we are underlings”. Do you remember when you started stargazing?
I have always been interested in astrology, as well as other occult arts. I remember doing this cleansing ritual – calling the corners – with my best friend at age 11, after which it began hailing—in July! When I was 13, I planned to tattoo the high priestess tarot card on my wrist. (This never happened. I have no tattoos.) Astrology feels like a natural extension of these interests.
I read that you were supposed to be a lawyer… Was your family in any way spiritual?
Well… My mom’s grandmother had premonitions, and my dad’s mom descended from British travellers (i.e. gypsies). Having said that, my parents weren’t woo-woo in the least.
Do you think that nowadays people are finding consolation in astrology, just as they did previously in philosophy and religion?
Astrology is definitely on the rise. And we have millennials to thank for this too. They are a product of Uranus travelling through Aries – the start of the zodiac with inherently self-focused energy. In other words: the generation of blogs, Snapchat and selfies. And, oh yes, I do think we’re missing enchantment in our lives.
We have replaced gods with screens, stories with video games. Having a relationship with stars, or phases of the moon, can re-nature us in such a beautiful way. How many people nowadays have even seen the Milky Way?
I feel that astrology can be a profound tool for healing and self-interrogation. Certainly it’s given me a language to articulate my own needs and challenges, and helped to accentuate the areas for healing.
It feels like globally, and not only in the spiritual world, the female energy is rising. And I wonder: is there a place for men in that shift?
This is a fantastic question, and one close to my heart. I do wonder if groups historically marginalized from conventional systems of knowledge and power are drawn to astrology for its own shared place in the margins. This includes women, but also queer communities and people of colour. But astrology has patriarchal roots, like most other fields. Until the 1980s, most astrologers were straight white guys. And the language remains very focused around the masculine – only the Moon and Venus are based on feminine deities, unless you bring the asteroids in.
For me, astrology and witchcraft have introduced me to women that feel like sisters. This is a marvellous space – this feeling of sisterhood. But men play a role in that energy change too. One of my teachers is a man: Adam Sommer of the Exploring Astrology podcast. We would all love to see more guys involved: balance is healthy. Excluding people based on gender (or ethnicity or age or ableness or class or religion or orientation) is not.
Your first novel, Demi-gods, is called a story of love, lust, and the spaces in between. You are an acclaimed writer – you won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize and were shortlisted for the Journey Prize and CBC Short Story Prize. How do you mesh astrology and writing, and does any of these activitietake preference over another?
On a literal level, mythology and magic do leak into my creative writing. And I would like to write more expansive astrological reports one day. At the moment, you can find some morsels on my Instagram account that I share with Jasmine Richardson. She makes collages, I conjure words. It is a fun collaboration.
Astrology and writing feel so compatible to me. They each involve stories. And enchantment. Maybe re-enchantment. Both in the labour (the magical thinking needed to interpret a chart or write fiction in the first place), and in the product: an astrological consultation, and a novel. Funny that both astrology and literature involve the word ‘reading’, isn’t it?