In Conversation with Esmé Weijun Wang: On Self-Taught Astrology & Planning by the Stars

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If you don't already know Esmé from her debut novel The Border of Paradise and her other writings on mental illness and working with limitations, allow me to introduce you to your new favorite person.

Beyond her impressive literary resume (she won the 2016 Graywolf Nonfiction Prize for her upcoming book, The Collected Schizophrenias), Esmé Weijun Wang is one of the warmest people you'll ever meet. We've worked together in many capacities over the last few years, and I've often wondered how she uses astrology in her life, both professional and personal. Lucky for us, she was gracious enough to answer my questions here, where you can read them! Here's what she had to say about learning astrology, planning by the stars, and creating a spiritual practice.

Astrologically, Esmé has a Gemini sun, Taurus moon, and Capricorn rising. I attribute her inimitable sense of style to a combination of classic Capricorn glamour and a well-placed Venus in Leo. 


A: For those who are new to your work, can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?

E: I'm primarily known as a novelist and essayist—I'm the author of the novel The Border of Paradise, which has received some critical acclaim, and the winner of the 2016 Graywolf Nonfiction Prize, which means that I'm currently under contract to write an essay collection about schizophrenia. I also freelance for publications, including Elle, Lenny, Hazlitt, and Catapult.

On top of that, I run a small business at that provides resources for ambitious creatives living with limitations. I teach classes, make online courses and programs, and write blog posts and e-books. 


A: What was it that first drew you to astrology? Were there any specific goals or desires you were hoping to achieve by using it?

E: I was drawn to astrology because life is wild and weird and I like structure. I was seeking a framework for my life and for the universe, and astrology provides that for me.


A: You have an extensive academic background. Has that influenced your experience of astrology and the sacred arts, and if so, how?

E: Mostly, it means that I love thoroughness and erudition when it comes to any form of the sacred arts, which is in part why I love Briana Saussy's work so much. Same with Jessa Crispin. They're both incredibly smart and well-read, and that clearly informs their work.


A: Astrology is, most often, used as a planning tool. Do you use astrology to time events, and if so, how?

E: I do consult an ephemeris occasionally and keep track of what sign the moon is in daily, but I tend to consult folks like you when I have something that could use some expert scheduling. Signing a contract, for example, is something that I'd prefer to do on a day that seems astrologically sound. 


A: How would you describe your comfort level with astrology? In what ways has that changed since you started exploring the sacred arts?

E: I'm a neophyte. I use astrology, as I said before, but I go to experts if I need to get a sense of the astrological weather. Having said that, using your product, Elemental Astrology, taught me a lot about how to read a natal chart—I've done it for a few people now, just for fun. 


A: What resources or practices have you found to be most helpful in learning astrology?

E: Elemental Astrology is a great tool, and I'm not just saying that because it's your product! I also use Ezzie Spencer's Lunar Abundance practice. Finally, I refer to the Llewellyn Daily Planetary Guide, as well as the Llewellyn Calendar.


A: Now that you’ve learned how to read the stars, what does your astrology practice look like? Do you find yourself using it more as a mundane or spiritual tool?

E: My astrological practice is heavily moon-based at the moment; I track the moon phases and keep an eye on what sign the moon is in. If I do any rituals, they'll inevitably happen on the New Moon or Full Moon. I'd probably call these practices spiritual in natureI'm a seeker, and am perpetually reading spiritual texts from a variety of faiths (I spent a year researching Catholicism)—but am far from being able to say what my spiritual beliefs are with any certainty.

When I use astrologers such as yourself to plan with, astrology then feels like a more mundane tool. I check with you the way I'd check a weather forecast before going on a trip. I like knowing when retrogrades are happening. I like knowing what planetary occurrences—a Saturn return, for example—lend themselves to certain considerations or questions.

The New Dark Ages: An Astrological Guide to the Next 3 Years

"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph." —Thomas Paine
Washington Reviewing His Troops at Valley Forge, William T. Trego, 1883

Washington Reviewing His Troops at Valley Forge, William T. Trego, 1883

If I'm being honest, I can't say I made the connection between Thomas Paine's quote on crisis, the seemingly hopeless Battle of Valley Forge, and our modern dilemma on my own. I realized the similarities to our present struggle while listening to Valley Forge, a demo from the Broadway musical Hamilton, in which Lin-Manuel Miranda laments his character's circumstances.

"I have seen the best minds of my generation/waste away in pestilence and starvation," he says. How many of us have, in these strange political times, given everything we have to what we know to be true, yet we still seem to come up short? Indeed, no matter what the results of a recount, the emotional and spiritual damage is done. But, we knew this was coming, even if we didn't want to accept it.

The stars are shifting, and the next few years will be very different than what we've become accustomed to. We were on top of the world during the Obama administration, with most major planets in mutable signs (or at least ones open to spiritual inquiry). Now, we face three long years of rigid Capricorn dominating the astrological forecast. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but don't expect things to go back to the way they were before November 8. It's not going to happen, at least for a while. Best to know what's coming and adapt to it so as to stay one step ahead of your opponent.

In the meantime, here are the dates you'll want to put in your calendar, what to expect based on historical events with the same astrology, and updates on the shifting geopolitical landscape of 2017 to 2020!

Everything you need to know about the Capricorn era

Capricorn loves tradition, structure, authority, and many things we as intellectuals and spiritual seekers tend to rail against; however, there are ways this can be good. Capricorn supports growth of wealth and businesses, so it wouldn't hurt to adopt a more avaricious approach during this time. Don't turn into the gold-hungry dragon, but it's okay to desire material things and plan for how to get them.

The Goat is also a realist, searching for solid ground upon which to ascend his chosen peak. Trying to reach your lofty goals through manifestation or other non-tangible methods won't be as effective now, perhaps because a doubt could creep into your psyche. What does work is being harder, better, faster, and stronger than your competition, and remembering: It's always a competition.

Speaking of things being tangible, this era is when we, as a society, go analog. The emphasis shifts away from social media and onto real life. In the wake of the 2016 DNC hacks, cybersecurity may be one very important reason for this. Or, this could be as simple as people turning off their phones in an effort to focus on their IRL ambitions. Alternately, if the ideological environment becomes more conservative, we must deal with that reality as well. We fight for our freedoms, but we protect our identities.

Important Dates

Lilith enters Capricorn on November 11, 2017 (yes, 11/11!), where she'll stay until August 2018. Lilith is the "disruptor," shaking up social norms wherever she goes. I wrote about the influence of Lilith in Capricorn in the Erotic Astrology series at The Hoodwitch:

"In Capricorn, Lilith embodies the spirit of greed. Capricorn thrives on business success and social status, and with Lilith here, the thirst for both becomes insatiable. It’s an impressive driver for “Started From The Bottom” style accomplishments, but it’s not as practical as it may seem. Whether it’s in the bedroom or the boardroom, this Lilith is always looking for an investment piece."

Saturn enters Capricorn on December 19, 2017, where he'll stay until the end of 2020, give or take a few retrogrades. Capricorn is Saturn's home sign, so with this alignment, we get a double dose of his energy. Conservative ideals flare and become more dominant. A widely retweeted quote from this The New York Times article on the modern occult trend is a great preview of how we can expect views to shift during this time.

For the entire month of December 2019, Saturn will be conjunct Pluto in Capricorn. In this alignment, karma accrued for abuses of power demands satisfaction. Saturn is structure, and Pluto dissolution, so together they tear down institutions that aren't strong enough to withstand their brute force. This is serious astrology, not to be taken lightly.

The last time this happened was the beginning of World War I, a conflict that completely reshaped the landscape of Europe, both literally and figuratively. The U.S. Constitution was written under a Saturn-Pluto conjunction. The most recent Saturn-Pluto meetup brought up McCarthyism, something we may, unfortunately, see a resurgence of given the Russian involvement in the U.S. election. Jupiter enters Capricorn that same month, so that's when we'll see a lot of this accelerate. By January 2020, the sun, Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, and Pluto are will be together in the most ambitious zodiac sign, ready to take power. But, who will seize it? 

Photograph by Alexei Druzhinin/TASS via Getty

Photograph by Alexei Druzhinin/TASS via Getty

Who run the world? Actually, it's Vladmir Putin

Remember that time I said there was an illusion surrounding the 2016 election I couldn't place, but that theft, betrayal, and deception were involved?

In my post-election tarot reading, I pulled The High Priestess for the Recent Past position. In it, a person with secret knowledge sits in front of a veil, hiding something from view. No surprise, then, that Putin may well be the man behind the (ideological) Iron Curtain. His astrology agrees.

Putin's secretive Scorpio rising has kept him out of view until now, much like solar Scorpio Hillary Clinton and her emails. He's on a winning streak, with lucky Jupiter hovering on his Sun (ego) and Saturn (authority), and preparing to move over his Neptune (beliefs, confusion) and Mercury (electronics, communication) next year. Once Jupiter moves into Scorpio, he'll cement his victory with Jupiter across his ascendant, then Venus. Venus and Jupiter are the two traditional "positive" planets, so together, they bring success with a measure of overindulgence. Eventually, he'll end up with too much of a good thing.

The good news is that Putin has no major planets in Capricorn, and a man with that much Libra won't be able to abide the austere tone of the Goat for too long before seeking out Venus-inspired pleasures. A Libra's weakness is love and beauty, so we'll see how that plays out.

How to succeed in the Capricorn era

Case Study #1: Michelle Obama

Capricorn Michelle Obama is the ultimate role model for how the rest of us should act during this period. She's outspoken in a positive, elegant way, working within existing structures to undermine those who want to wreck America.

This speech in particular, in which she indicts Donald Trump for his remarks about touching women without their consent, moved me. See how she stands so strong, never compromising her position? That's going to be you. Having high standards, and being willing to stand up for them, is another wonderful Capricorn trait. Make her motto your own: When they go low, you go high. 

Case Study #2: Lin-Manuel Miranda

Miranda is about to EGOT, for god's sake. He's the definition of work ethic, the ultimate Capricorn calling card. If you can work one-percent as hard as he does, you're on the right track. The thing I love about Lin-Manuel Miranda is that he contributes to so many top-notch things. Again, high standards come through.

Also, you don't get much more earnest than he does in his tweets. Our generation has grown to love sarcasm, and it's great, but telling people how you really feel goes a long way, especially in scary times. Be honest about how you feel, in your work, your performances, and your life.

Hi, Amelia here!

In the spirit of Saturnalia, I'm open for Skype sessions (with astrology and tarot) from now until the 23rd!

We can talk about how the Capricorn era is going to influence your personal astrology, or what the stars have in store for you in 2017!

A Tarot Spread for President Trump: How to Heal After the Election That Shocked the World

In order: Five of Cups (Situation), Seven of Swords (Challenge), King of Coins (Root or Cause), The High Priestess (Recent Past), The Hierophant (Best Outcome), The Hanged Man (Near Future), Four of Coins (Self), Four of Swords (Environment), Page of Swords (Hopes and Fears), Four of Wands (Likely Outcome), Justice (Shadow), Seven of Wands (Adjustment)

In order: Five of Cups (Situation), Seven of Swords (Challenge), King of Coins (Root or Cause), The High Priestess (Recent Past), The Hierophant (Best Outcome), The Hanged Man (Near Future), Four of Coins (Self), Four of Swords (Environment), Page of Swords (Hopes and Fears), Four of Wands (Likely Outcome), Justice (Shadow), Seven of Wands (Adjustment)

I said it before, but it bears repeating: To all my female, black, brown, LGBTQ people still in shock: I feel the heaviness of your hearts. I love you. To all the Muslims, Jews, witches, and people of all faiths who are afraid: I feel it too. I love you.

This tarot spread was originally for me, but it didn't take long for me to realize that it was for you too. It explores the deep roots of election-induced stress, the best possible outcomes, and what to do next. I hope it gives you something you've been looking for.  If you have any questions, you know where to find me!



Part One: Internal Conflict

Situation: Five of Cups

I couldn't have chosen a better card to describe the current emotional state sweeping the country right now if I tried. It's heavy, with a sense of deep loss. Like traditional version of the card, this man is dressed in dark colors, indicating mourning. Three cups are spilled and in disarray, and a storm is brewing.

Yet the message here is always: All is not lost. Two cups are still standing. It's less than what we had before, and it's good and right to mourn for what's gone. Things aren't going to go back to the way they were, maybe ever, maybe not in our lifetime, but eventually we must pick up what we have and carry on.

Astrologically, this card aligns with Mars in Scorpio. Mars is at home in Scorpio, but here that energy boils below the surface. It moves in the shadows, as we may have to for a time. If you need space to process, to go within and process. If you need to rage, that's okay too. Scorpio is rage, but it is also healing. Healing will come.

Challenge: Seven of Swords

This card indicates theft, deception, and betrayal. Here, we see hands picking up a group of swords by the blade, which is dangerous at best and stupid at worst. Indeed, we may feel that our country and our fellow Americans have done the same. The challenge with this card is moving on when there are so many questions left unanswered. How do we pick up the pieces of our lives when injustice has been chosen over progress?

The astrological meaning behind this card offers useful advice. The Seven of Swords corresponds to the Moon in Aquarius, which urges us to detach from our emotions as much as possible. Instead, focus on what long-term ramifications this shift will have and prepare for them. Aquarius represents humanitarian aid, so do what you can to contribute to people who will be most affected by this change (minorities, women, LGBTQ people, people of non-Christian faiths).

I do not want to sow seeds of unrest, but I do feel that this card indicates that there are many things still at work here that we do not know about. More information about the election may also be released during the next Aquarius moon, especially when it crosses Mars. 

Root or Cause: King of Coins

When I saw this card, I saw Donald Trump. The King of Coins usually represents a literal person, often a businessman who treasures wealth above all else. President-elect Trump certainly fits that description. The card is an older white male, could embody the patriarchy as a whole. It's heartbreakingly direct.

Recent Past: The High Priestess

This may be the most multilayered card of the entire spread. My first thought was that this is Hillary Clinton. The High Priestess can represent the career woman who eschews traditional female roles for the pursuit of knowledge. She literally holds the law in her hand. The fact that she's veiled points to Hillary's tendency to hold her cards close to her chest. She reveals herself only to a select few.

Another interpretation is that the world is experiencing a spiritual awakening. The High Priestess symbolizes intuition, and this affirms that the veil is very, very thin right now. What I mean by that is we're more able than ever to listen to our bodies, the earth, and our inner selves. Bri Luna from The Hoodwitch describes it like this.

Alternately, this could be further confirmation of any illusions surrounding this election. I can't say what exactly, but something's up. The High Priestess reversed means not listening to intuition, so this could also be as simple as people ignoring the aforementioned spiritual awakening by denying that climate change exists or continuing to oppress minorities, women, and other groups.

Best Outcome: The Hierophant

Here, the older man opens up a box filled with light. It's enlightenment. I think the best we can hope for is that the King of Coins cohort gets on board with the world's spiritual awakening (read: gets woke) and progress resumes.

A common reading of this card is "faith in tradition," so I think we also have to hope that our government structures will do their job to preserve our rights. We can protest peacefully. We can speak out freely. These are traditions our country was built on, and that can serve us now.

Near Future: The Hanged Man

This is tough. I fear that this is not a good Hanged Man, as in, "meditate and burn sage and everything will be fine." If you look at the man in this particular image, he has been stripped of his clothing and hung upside down. The image of lynching is uncomfortably familiar here. This is without a doubt the racist vandalism and harassment that became one of Twitter's top Moments the day after election, the interviews now being granted to members of the KKK, and worse.

The day before the election, I had a long talk with my grandmother. She recounted a moment shortly after integration was rolled out in the 1960s in which a black female coworker asked if they could walk home from work together because her car had been destroyed by racist vandalism of this type. Windows were bashed out, and hateful slurs emblazoned across the side. Law enforcement were called, but they did not come. It has been nearly 60 years since this event, and senseless hate of this type continues. In this way, America has truly become The Hanged Man, condemned by its inability to see through the eyes of another.

In astrology, The Hanged Man correlates to Neptune, the planet of illusion. Things will get worse before they get better if we do not get Neptune tendencies in check: think privilege, living in a fantasy world, ignoring facts. 

Part Two: External Healing

Self: Four of Coins

For many of us, the result of this election has brought us back to a primal state of survival. If you aren't familiar with Maslow's hierarchy of needs, look it up and start working on getting the bottom layer sorted out: These are fresh air, water, food, clothing, shelter, and believe it or not, sex. Many of us are artists or intellectuals, so we dwell our minds or what many would call the "upper chakras." Getting your base needs fulfilled may not be your comfort zone, but you're going to have to make it so for a while until things stabilize.

Traditionally, this card also straddles the line between making fear-based decisions and choosing options that you know won't implode down the line. Everyone's feeling that right now. Above all else, the Four of Coins is a proponent of good common sense advice: Don't be reckless, but don't do something that's going to make you miserable either.

Astrologically, this card aligns with the sun's entry into Capricorn, so we'll start to feel normal again in late December. It seems like an eternity now, but hang in there. You're so close already.

Environment: Four of Swords

It's not just you. Right now, everyone you know is trying to heal in the only way they know how: sleeping it off. We've worried ourselves sick, we've lost sleep, and we're crashing. Maybe some of you still can't sleep. Maybe you have nightmares (I do). Maybe you toss and turn. Whatever it is, sleep is the only thing that's really going to fix this garbage year, because that's when the body regenerates. That is what the Four of Swords means in its most literal sense. It's the healing process. 

In astrology, the Four of Swords connects with Jupiter in Libra, which is Jupiter's current position. Jupiter is great energy for a quick pick-me-up, so channel those good vibes through Libra activities, like beauty, fashion, art, and music. Libra is also excellent for diplomacy, so if you're planning ahead for any holiday visits with family who have different beliefs than you do, take a peaceful approach, not aggressive actions. 

Hopes and Fears: Page of Swords

This reminds me of the line in Hamilton: "Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?"

Allow me to explain. The Page of Swords is the essence of air, the element of communication, and your ability to tell your personal story. With the outcome of this election, we wish for a chance to tell the story of our struggle so that the deluge of emotions we're experiencing now won't have been for nothing. We're also terrified that, after this, no one will ever hear our names again. What we're really afraid of is being stripped of our identities. Whether or not that will actually happen remains to be seen.

Likely Outcome: Four of Wands

This Four of Wands is different from other Four of Wands. Typically, the Four of Wands shows a traditional home or marriage ceremony. This image feels more spontaneous to me. It's set on a beach, and the wands themselves are set at an angle, like spotlights. Four people look like they've broken out into a dance party, overcome with joy.

Joy is a strange image to look upon today, but hear me out. Ultimately, the Trump administration will teach all of us how to find spontaneous joy in the midst of sad times, where there seems to be none. We may have to sneak out and look for fun in hard to find places, but our sanity is fucking worth it. Staying alive is worth celebrating. You are worth celebrating.

Astrologically, this card aligns with Venus in Aries, so you'll feel this vibe settle in the next time Venus enters Aries—that's early February 2017. After a difficult few months, beauty makes its way back.

Part Three: What Comes Next

Shadow: Justice

Whenever I do tarot readings, I check the card on the bottom of the deck to see what influences may be secretly affecting the situation.*  In this case, I was in no way surprised to see Justice peeking out from beneath my hands. What card could be more influential in this particular situation? Often, the Justice card signifies literal court issues, in this case a presidential race fraught with an sexual misconduct, FBI investigations, and more. 

Here, I have the strong sense that we see the shadow side of Libra: equivocating, sleazy dealings, corruption.

*I learned this either from Paige Zaferiou of Tarot and Tea or Jen Cintrón of Intuitive Insights Tarot, I can't remember which!

Adjustment: 7 of Wands

If you remove the Shadow card on the bottom of the deck, this will be the one just underneath it. It reveals what adjustments you need to make in order to get the best possible outcome. In this case, the Seven of Wands shows a man who's besieged on all sides by attackers, but still has the better position. He's going to win if he continues to fight a good fight.

Over the next four years, you're more than likely going to be in this character's position: Attacked on all sides, but still in a position of authority. Stay strong and don't give up. Hold your ground. Remember that this card aligns with Mars in Leo, and that you'll do your best when you give your anger a creative outlet through which to flow. 

An Open Letter on Saturn Returns and Limits

Hi everyone. It’s Amelia here.

I just wanted to say thank you for your kind support over the last month or so as I’ve been recovering from a major neck injury. Every time I see one of your sweet messages, I smile.

I’ve talked about what’s been going on via Twitter, but wanted to give you something a little more in-depth as I go through this experience. You’ve been something of a family to me for the last three years, so it’s the least I can do.

In short, there’s a disc out of place in my neck. Most days, it feels like this:

For years, I’d fretted over how my Saturn Return would show up. It started a little over a month ago in my first house of self. I've grown to love my personal identity, and I didn't want that to change with this transit. True to astrological form, my Saturn Return arrived in the one classic first house area I hadn’t accounted for: my body. 

It took a month and a half to get a diagnosis. Indeed, Saturn events move slowly, with many delays. During that month, I couldn’t do much. I put on a nice face, but everything hurt. Sitting, standing, lying down. I white knuckled it for the most part, because the medications made me sleepy, and I like to work.

I worked more than I should have. I played shows and carried my gear and danced. It didn’t help. Eventually the doctors told me I had to stop. No more lifting, less moving. I scaled back. Then the smaller things started to bother me. My fingers tingle as I touch the keyboard. I have to use my left hand to turn the key in the lock now when I get home from more and more appointments. 

I feel guilty, because to any onlooker, spending all day in bed writing sounds like a comically easy profession; however, the pain is always there. It dulls my thoughts, and dictates when I can and can’t produce good work. I’m learning to work around it, but it’s new. Navigating it is going to take time. From what I understand, this could take a few months to a few years to improve.

On top of that, some of the bones in my neck look arthritic, which is unusual for someone my age. They’re still looking for the cause, which means more tests and more doctors. They’re nervous about it, and so am I, but I’m hoping it’s nothing. I’m worried it’s not.

Today, my doctor told me I have to take three days off to do nothing. I agreed, if reluctantly.

But, we do what we must. Saturn Returns are about restriction, and if I keep pushing my limits, I won’t be able to heal. There is a time to expand, and a time to contract. I’m a Sagittarius rising, so I prefer the former, but I’m ready to do the latter wholeheartedly. As I explore this new territory, I’m grateful to people like Esmé Wang for sharing her experience with creativity with limitations. It’s good to know I’m not going it alone. 

So, I’m scaling back and making edits to my life where necessary. I want to say yes to everything and keep going as if everything were “normal”, but I recognize that it’s physically impossible to do it all--even if you have the best intentions. I’ve never been good at that part, and I apologize for anything that’s gotten lost in translation.

Here’s what that means for The Midheaven:

  • The Jupiter Field Guide is delayed until October 1. You can still pre-order here, and I’m adding a few surprises to make it worth your wait. 
  • I may hop on Twitter here or there, but I’ll be out of the office until Thursday. If it is urgent, contact and Zach will get back to you.

Again, thank you so much for your generous comments. As I've said before, I'm not good at asking for help, but any positive vibes, candles, and general well wishes are welcome. I'll be in touch as things develop. In the meantime, I'll be over here, writing my way out.

In spirit! xx