These days, there are so many ways to seek out your horoscope—CoStar, Sanctuary, (Man Repeller, of course), the New York Post, the odd Hearst magazine, the Standard Hotel, Susan Miller, Alice Bell. But, as is often the case with top-shelf astrology, my horoscope seems to find me. Though I have my suspicions about whether it’s really a horoscope at all.
It arrives every week by way of an ongoing thread in my inbox with the subject line “re: rob brezsny aquarius.” The first message dates back to January 8th, 2019, the day my friend Grace decided to introduce me to Rob Brezsny’s oeuvre by copy-and-pasting his Aquarian horoscope into an email. (Grace of the one-woman-newsletter is a Libra, on the cusp of Scorpio. She is also one of my few feats in the field of making-friends-as-an-adult.)
The contents of our long email thread now represent my sole interaction with the secrets of the stars: Grace pastes the cerebral missives, each a paragraph long, from Rob Brezsny’s website Free Will Astrology every week. In the case of Brezsny, “horoscope” is more of a catch-all term. (As he told The New York Times in 1994, “My secret agenda is to be a poet who gets paid for writing poetry.”) Reading him feels like being handed a newly chiseled prism through which I can view, analyze, and internalize my experiences. He has a mission in mind: “So much of what happens in your life is stimulated by what you think is going to happen. I want readers to use their imagination to cook up new responses to the events in their lives.”
Brezsny’s whole enterprise, I’ve since learned, originated with a column he kicked off in 1980. His material on Free Will Astrology, available to anyone on the internet who knows to look for it, otherwise reaches towns far and wide via syndication in alt weeklies.
Here’s an example of a dispatch from May 14th:
I’ve found myself hooked by the content as much as the writing itself: I often marvel at Brezsny’s work as a lesson in brevity. It’s rare to come by a horoscope of his that exceeds 150 words, and yet they each have a compact beginning, middle, and end. By contrast, I pitched this story as a piece that would clock in at 400 words. As you will soon find out, it is not. Put down your bag and stay awhile: We are already at word #407. Pithy as Brezsny may be, he contains multitudes, as his web presence will remind you: His site characterizes him as “an aspiring master of curiosity,” “perpetrator of sacred uproar,” and “a storyteller and prophet as much as an astrologer.”
Occasionally Grace annotates his passages (“Is he trying to tell you to reign it in on The RealReal?”), or I react (“I hope I am one day half the writer that Rob Brezsny is. Short-form king,”), but otherwise the chain persists with little editorialization like quiet and dependable clockwork, rhythmic as waves lapping onto the shore of Gmail.
Brezsny also possesses a trove of trivia. Over the past year, my horoscopes have included anecdotes from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, Charles Lindbergh’s sense of spirituality, Renaissance painter Filippo Lippi’s personal saga, a brief moment in the history of the Ford automobile company when they made a so-called “biological car,” discoveries in Chinese archaeology, and so on. In September, he referenced Toxorhynchites, large mosquitoes that don’t buzz around or bite humans but instead breed larvae that feast on the larvae of more bothersome mosquitoes, to illustrate a point: He proposed “that you be alert for a metaphorically comparable influence in your own life: a helper or ally that might be in disguise or may just superficially seem to be like an adversary.”
Another Brezsny-induced moment of clarity arrived at my virtual doorstop on Tuesday, October 15th, 2019, when Grace made her internet rounds. Brezsny kicked off that week’s horoscope with a proclamation from (fellow Aquarian) author and activist Angela Davis: “I believe in inhabiting contradictions…I believe in making contradictions productive, not in having to choose one side or the other side. As opposed to choosing either or choosing both.” In the spirit of Brezsny and Davis, I spent a week focused on holding all sorts of contradicting ideas in my head at once, and it felt like brain yoga.
Amidst well-excavated facts and soundbites, what Brezsny delivers, week after week, is a new frame of mind to try on for size. He deals less in slight superstitions, more in minor self-discoveries. Following Brezsny’s example, I recommend making small renovations to your mental architecture, and sending these blueprints to your friends.
Graphics by Coco Lashar