Gee-Whiz: An Interview with Eric Francis By Jane Arnell | The Mining Co.
This week we have an interview with astrologer and investigative reporter Eric Francis, who's great site, The Worlds of Eric Francis, is a great source for witty and interesting monthly horoscopes. His new page, Planet Waves, features weekly horoscopes and a lot of writing on environmental and relationship themes. Eric also has pieces up at Brezny's Real Astrology, including Astrology as the Art of Bullshit.
We interviewed Eric while he was visiting Stuttgart, Germany, between reporting assignments. The city was 37 degrees Celsius. During the entire interview, the moon was passing through Eric's 12th house.
Jane Arnell: How did you evolve to become an astrologer? How do you see yourself in that role?
Eric Francis: 'Evolve to become' is a great way of putting it. It all started with "A Course in Miracles," which is another topic altogether, but I ended up with the books in my house one day 12 years ago, and after a genuinely terrifying drug experience, decided I had nothing to lose by starting the project. My life till that point had been incredibly eventful because I was involved with journalism, politics and activist projects, but in June 1986 I was in very bad shape and so basically you could say I turned to God.
Besides the psychic wound from the drug experience, the themes that came out that spring included being in love with two women and deciding not to hide it from anyone, many strange psychic experiences, being very aware of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster unfolding in the Ukraine, graduating from the University at Buffalo and leaving my community, and dealing with some very intense political battles -- all of these things were converging at once, and I couldn't take it, and I had nowhere else to turn except within myself for the first time. I was losing my mind, but in retrospect, I see that I was gaining something else very important in the process, and that something else is the basis of my work.
As for my role -- well, I'm only masquerading as an astrologer. It's an elaborate charade, given the amount I read and write and the number of readings I've done and my great passion for the sky and the subject, but being an astrologer is a good place for me to hide out. I can't call myself a 'cosmic radical' and expect people to take me seriously, so the closest possible job description is 'astrologer'. The job involves telling the truth and asking other people to do the same. Once that starts to happen, then real growth is inevitable and the real fun begins, whether you're reading charts or tea leaves or playing naked Twister.
JA: What has been your most recent growth spurt or fascination with astrology?
EF: I've been studying space debris, which is an ever-expanding field. I was born with John Glenn's lost glove in Aquarius, and it's exactly square the old Apollo 11 booster rocket retrograde in Taurus, which is an incredibly powerful set-up.
But seriously, yes, space debris -- very early on, I took an interest in Chiron, which is one of the newly discovered planets, but basically an artifact from the very beginning of the solar system. He showed up, that is, was discovered, in late 1977. I immediately resonated with Chiron. In fact, the week I went from not understanding charts to actually being able to read them was coincidentally the same week I was reading "Chiron: Rainbow Bridge" by Barbara Hand Clow. Then when I came to Germany a couple of months ago, I immediately looked up Robert von Heeren in Munich, who co-wrote the first book on Pholus, which was the next Centaur planet discovered, in 1992 by the way, and he really got me going on the other six Centaurs. To me this is just about astrology at its finest, because Centaur planets are all about working the edge, which is where I like to hang out, and their mythology is amazing. And the study of Centaurs immediately puts you in contact with astronomical data and the latest scientific findings, including things that are not explained, and it's very good for your mind to hang out there. And when you study the weird orbits of these planets, which are very egg-shaped and erratic, and plot them against your life events, you suddenly can see all these hidden cycles and themes in your life that suddenly make you want to get up on your chair and yell, "YES -- MAYBE THE UNIVERSE MAKES A LITTLE SENSE AFTER ALL!!" while your roommate looks at you seriously wondering, and blaming astrology for how weird you're becoming. Correctly so.
Also, lately, I've become totally absorbed in Alice A. Bailey's "Esoteric Astrology." I got into this when I needed to decode the very intense Total Solar Eclipse chart for August 11, 1999, which I'll talk about later. Bailey, like anything very spiritual in nature, is somewhat hazardous territory, and were I not fully trained in investigating fraud and fairly well trained in psychic matters and religion, I would not trust it at all. But it's amazing. There have been many moments where the book turned to a green ball of fire in my hands. If you read nothing else, read her chapters on Virgo, Libra and Scorpio. That's all I'll say.
JA: Do you practice a certain type of astrology (horary/ Vedic/ esoteric, etc.?) or astrology with a particular focus?
EF: I am the creator and proponent of the Gee-Whiz school of astrology. This is truly astrology for the people. You need to know hardly anything at all, just the basics, and it's really good for making you feel like a brilliant astrologer if you've been studying for just two months or three days. It works like this: you cast your charts, and then when they come out of the printer, you look at them, and when you see something that looks weird, important or impossible, you say, "Gee-Whiz!" You need to keep a dumb look on your face for several seconds after you say this. The dumb look is critical.
Don't try to "read meaning into" the astrology; you do not get deep; you get duhhhhhish, and stare, and after you've let out one or two good "Gee-Whizzes," and temporarily acknowledged your relatively small place in the vast scheme of things, you can say things like, "Wow," and "How the fuck did that get there?" and so forth, with all the appropriate tones of astonishment.
If nothing intriguing pops up in your chart right away, keep reading until you get a good Gee-Whiz. You will. This branch of astrology takes advantage of the natural resource known as stupidochronicity, which is a form of temporary mindlessness that relies on synchronicities, which is what people try to attain for 19 years sitting in Zen monasteries playing with the I Ching. Keeping in the Zen metaphor, the "meaning," that is, the pearls of wisdom of the chart, begin to fill the empty cup of the Gee-Whiz. There is plenty of time to be brilliant. A little later.
In my astrological and political writing, my new focus has become the "End of the World." I know, this sounds slightly alarmist, though I'm fairly optimistic overall, and somebody has to cover The End. It's a big story. Since that great REM song, everybody has pretty much dropped the entire subject. It has its funny sides and its not-so-funny sides, and obviously the world is not ending any time soon, but we are changing fast, and that is a very important process for us to honor and speed up and do consciously. This inquiry started with my recent article on the August 11, 1999 Total Solar Eclipse [August 1998 Navigator, "Thinking of You on Judgment Day"] and this wonderful thing called the Cassini Space Probe, which contains 72 pounds of plutonium and is headed our way right after the eclipse. In that piece, I went all-out using a news event to explain what some people see as a very menacing eclipse chart. I did not really use the chart to explain the event. I knew about the eclipse a long time ago, and then I heard about Cassini and all the Pluto-nium, and I said to myself, "Gee-Whiz!"
For example, there is an eclipse and a grand cross at the same time, and this is right around when the space probe shows up, so it occurred to me that, well, duhhh, X marks the spot, and the eclipse says Pay Attention. We're at the point in history where we no longer need astrology to explain life. We are the ones who have the explaining to do. We call the shots, so we're the ones who need to get called up to the podium and field tough questions from the press.
Right? We're systematically strangling our ability to live on the planet, which is one thing, but we don't, as a culture, seem to give a shit, which is quite another thing. To borrow that old Pink Floyd line, don't be afraid to care.
JA: How does this relate to people on a personal level?
EF: Well, how we feel about "the world" says a lot about how we feel about our lives. The 'end of the world' is not exactly a new subject in astrology. Most people show up in my office at one end of the world or another. The apocalypse is an ongoing event. Astrology is about change, and all real change involves death or surrender, and astrologers need to assist people in their processes of this sort. Which means we need to be good at it ourselves, which means we need to practice.
In terms of my reading technique, I use the chart to ask questions and pick out key dates using the Gee-Whiz theory, and then the client talks about his or her life and we get a real discovery-oriented discussion going. I do this mainly with the Centaur planets, and really all you need to use is Chiron, which is listed in a lot of ephemerides now. What is the nature of the experiences that come up? Does the person use their power, or falter with it? This gives you your actual starting point. I call it "testing the chart." I have this chart in front of me and this person sitting here, and obviously I know nothing about either, so after saying hello and finding out what kind of day or week or lifetime they're having, I give them a few very intense dates, dates or seasons where you would assume something SHOULD have happened, and see what they come up with. And we find out a lot, including a lot about astrology -- things that are brand new and truly original. It's very exciting, because it's not out of theory books.
JA: Has your interest in astrology come out of or developed into another career path?
EF: Yes, investigative journalism. When I bought my first ephemeris, I was deeply involved in a series of stories exposing the corporate crimes of companies like General Electric and Monsanto, which have poisoned the world, which means our bodies, with their toxic wastes. If the names mean anything to you, I specialized in PCBs and dioxins, extremely toxic, persistent chemicals made from chlorine. There is a book called "Our Stolen Future" by a woman named Theo Colborn that tells the story quite well. It was one of those stories that investigative reporters both dream of and are terrified of at once, because the implications were so staggering. So, by day I would be reading GE's internal company memos from the 1940s, and pouring over huge trial transcripts and ancient newspaper cuttings about fraud in science, and then I would retire to a few hours with the Tarot and the ephemeris and my charts. The two processes fueled each other incredibly. Both involved exploring a kind of occultism. That was clear.
Studying astrology as intensely as I was helped me cultivate a deep inner awareness, while the issues I was writing about in the media were giving me a personal connection, and a sense of participating, in world affairs. Later, as I slowly moved out of reporting and into a full-time astrology counseling practice, my worldly grounding became people and their experiences, and this was a very important learning process for me, to sit there hour after hour and listen to peoples' incredible stories of their lives. What a privilege.
Astrology is about people and not their charts. Now that I'm doing both again, that is, both covering scandals and working in astrology as a writer and consultant, that synergy is stronger than ever, and I'm growing with it. Plus, it's a lot of fun to study things like the horoscopes of the court decisions I'm writing about, or the natal charts of my story subjects.
I want to say something though. At first I was very self-conscious that all the people whose respect I had earned for my meticulous research, people like scientists and editors and writers in Washington and New York, would think I was, I don't know, delusional or weak-minded for being an astrologer. I mean, we all know that in the scientific community, and in places like newsrooms, astrology has very little respect at all, it's a joke, and in politics, occasionally you hear that Reagan or someone has an astrologer and that doesn't exactly help either. But astrology needs to break these chains and claim its space, and astrologers need to deal with, and in, reality. We need to give real information, not predictions, and take our work as seriously as any other profession, and be open minded about the fact that what we are doing is quite strange when viewed from the point of rational thought. But, hey, so is lawyering, and this does not stop lawyers.
Though it is a fact, an absolute fact, that 99% of the people who are skeptics know not the first thing about astrology. So we need to learn how to communicate and say intelligent things at dinner parties or when the local newspaper calls us you up for a comment about the eclipse or whatever. And this is one reason why I write about astrology and use it in almost all of my journalism these days, and why I am totally out of the closet with all the crooks and newsheads I work with on my investigative stories. And I am enjoying this moment of being the world's only out-of-the-closet investigative journalist and professional astrologer.
JA: What is your current astrology practice like? How long have you been practicing astrology?
EF: Currently I work on the Internet, because all my clients are international. Because I feel so strongly that an interactive process is essential, my readings are more like a private graduate writing seminar. I ask my clients to write extensively about their lives, to fill in biographical facts of major transits -- and then I read what they write, ask questions and give feedback. This goes on for a while, we write each other deep letters and find our way into the present and then the future, and it's very exciting. Though some people love it and find that they can really move energy and grow with the process. And some people wish I would just send them a printout. Which I won't do of course, because my feeling is that there needs to be a live soul on the other end of the astrology chart. Artificial intelligence won't cut it. We need the real thing.
I've been practicing astrology for three years, and my studies go back to 1986 when I started the Course in Miracles, though I read Tarot cards for a long time before I started reading astrology -- in clubs and restaurants and bars all over the great American nation, and in places like the Anheuser-Busch booth at the national beer show when I was covering the liquor business. That was fun -- I was pissed off at this whole stupid beer convention, so I staged a protest: I sat down in this sumptuous free restaurant that A-B had set up, and did free readings. And people actually sat down.
When I was in the Woodstock area, till this past spring when I came to Europe, I had a very nice little office in the mountains where I did about 12 readings a week, and I see myself creating a new office in couple of years, maybe less, though by the ocean, about 500 feet away, tops. I want to call my new business Uncle Neptune's Astrology or something. Guess my sign.
JA: What are you doing in Europe?
EF: It's fairly simple, being an American, I felt like I had to live in another culture for a while. I've been exploring Germany, England and France, and writing my columns and articles. I am enjoying the culture shock, and It's great to meet people I would never meet if I had stayed put, and for sure, being in here is helping me figure out who I am and where I come from.
JA: What do you see in astrology that tells us info. about family relationships, karma, spirituality and inherited family patterns?
EF: Well, here again, I really like to listen to people and then study the chart. You have to do that anyway, because everybody's mom is different and nobody knows what the nadir is, for example, and so if you see some huge transit around the client's nadir, and make a case for how important this is, it's like, who gives a shit. But if they are telling you about some family situation because you noticed something in the chart and asked, and then you really study the transit later, but you deal with the client and her life NOW, then you can get someplace. You have to ask, and you have to listen.
But speaking of the nadir, that funny thing, I'll tell you a little story that gives a clue. Two years ago, I visited my ancestral home in Sicily. I had to do it, if you understand. I was the first person to go back to this town in three generations, since my great grandparents emigrated with my Godmother, who was then about five years old. It was a long trip getting there, via assorted temples and pyramids and adventures in Egypt and Greece, and then from Rome across to Palermo, and the timing of my arrival in this little town was absolutely, totally random. The bus was late and everything, and when I got off the bus in the middle of nowhere Sicily, and put my feet on the ground, and looked at my watch to use the time to cast horary, wouldn't you know it: the exact degree of my natal nadir was the exact degree rising. And remember, each degree rises for just four minutes a day. The nadir is actually about our ancestral roots. And there I was. Sometimes you just know you're in the right place at the right time.
JA: How long have you been on the 'Net? What have you observed of the evolution of the community of astrologers, particularly on the 'Net but also in the global community?
EF: My work has been posted on the Net pretty much since the beginning, since some of the early Navigators, which immediately gave me a readership, which writers really benefit from. I don't surf the Web a lot, but having my stuff on several homepages is a lot of fun and I hear from all kinds of people everywhere.
The discussion groups are amazing, things like Festival. Suddenly we can really communicate. An event happens and within ten minutes the data is out and there can be a discussion going on the big lists. This development is important news for the human mind, because it's the single biggest step in the history of consciousness since mass media began. And we've finally created communication media, not just TV getting hurled at us. But this goes further -- The Net is the first culturally-acknowledged psychic plane. We casually call it "cyberspace" knowing it has no actual place, it's everyplace, but we "go" there, sitting right here, and this place where we go is an actual psychic field. Sure, like all of the lower psychic fields, it's messy and things evaporate, but it opens totally undreamed of possibilities. And wouldn't you know it, it turns out that the Universe's first publicly acknowledged psychic plane is simultaneously the hugest underground newspaper in history.
Astrologically, if you want to know about the Net, look at the Uranus-Neptune conjunction and what that says about revolutions in matters of a psychic nature. We ain't seen nothing yet.
JA: What astrological associations do you belong to? How have they been helpful to your growth as an astrologer?
EF: I don't belong to any associations, but I associate with the biggest troublemakers I can find.
JA: What astrology publications do you read? What astrology authors do you recommend?
EF: New students should definitely study the astrology dictionary so they know what the words mean. Words are power. The Arkana dictionary is great, and so is Alan Leo's, just remember that some of Leo's stuff is a little dusty, like his stuff on eclipses. But the rest is great.
I read what crosses my path. Recently somebody gave me an ancient book called Arkana of Astrology and it's very funny. I like "The Mountain Astrologer" and "Planet Earth," though I don't get them here. But as for authors -- I have a lot to say about that. The first three books on my reading list for astrologers are: One, Sex for One by Betty Dodson. We need to learn to be able to speak totally candidly about masturbation and sex if we're going to be good counselors. Second, The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot. The stuff he has documented in this beautiful book is so far-out that it makes astrology seem totally normal, and gives you tremendous respect for what can actually happen in this world. Third, Radical Honesty by Brad Blanton. These authors have done their work well and are a joy to live with.
Now, as for astrology -- that's harder, because good books are rare and bullshit abounds. The most basic book I suggest is Astrology: A Cosmic Science by Isabel Hickey. But I wish there was a newer, better book. Maybe there is. Rob Brezsny recommends The Inner Sky by Steven Forrest. I have not read it, but I trust Rob, and speaking of Rob, study that column [Real Astrology]. It's just beautiful and it will teach you a lot about how to have fun with astrology and make up metaphors that real people understand. Things like trying to eat soup with a fork.
I'll just mention a few of my absolutely favorite books for people who are into the subject, or who are very enthusiastic about learning. The Moment of Astrology by Geoffrey Cornelius is a work of art, allegedly about horary astrology, but really about all astrology. He is funny and brilliant and all love. Prometheus the Awakener by Richard Tarnas is an astrological orgasm. Check out the chapters on the Uranus-Pluto cycle and the Uranus-Neptune cycle. Tarnas is a historian and another person who makes astrology look so obvious you just shake your head. And for the Centaurs and Saturn, see if you can get hold of a book called To The Edge and Beyond by Melanie Reinhart. It's put out by CPA press in London, and its expensive, but worth every cent.
If you read professionally, keep a good dictionary in your counseling room and look up all words that become controversial. Pay particular attention to the word roots, from Greek or Latin or whatever. I'm a little weird, but I also keep a Merck Index around, to look up chemicals I find in peoples' homes, and a good homeopathic Materia Medica is an excellent tool for decoding reality. This lists the psychic and physical properties of most herbs and other substances, everything from Mercury to oak trees. If you have one available, look up tobacco and see what you find.
JA: Are you mainly self-taught or have you had specific training? Have you had any mentors?
EF: I've worked and continue to work with some great astrologers, though I am almost entirely self-taught. That is, I never went to school or took more than a couple of formal lessons. I love to read and study and investigate things. But I pursue relationships with people in astrology and other fields whom I feel are really in the true spirit of life, and this is essential, to keep a dialog going with people you respect, and trade ideas. And while mentors are important, trust yourself -- know when you may be tapping into something beyond what they have ever tapped into, and when not to doubt your own concepts, no matter how far-out they may seem.
Most of my true mentoring has come from about six years of work with an excellent Gestalt therapist in Woodstock. Without this, I would not be able to do readings, and I don't think I'd be very happy. Betty Dodson, one of the world's foremost masturbation advocates, has also provided some of my best guidance in terms of how to handle sexual themes and past experiences when working with clients.
JA: What recommendations/advice do you have for those new to the study of astrology or those who are wishing to incorporate astrology into their way of life and spirituality?
EF: Turn over rocks and drive to work a different way every day. Nothing is taboo, nothing is really occult, so ask questions. And I really suggest that you make art and writing, and play with dice and Tarot cards and yourself.
JA: What recommendations do you have for students of astrology -- beyond what's on your wonderful page!?
EF: Look up.
-- finis -- Back to Planet Waves