A self-described “late bloomer,” Chani Nicholas pursued different career paths before finding her future in both the least and most likely of places: the stars.
Billowing incense. Glowing neon signs featuring palms and promises of Psychic Readings in a basement apartment. Crystal balls. God forbid, a white charlatan donning a turban, promising to tell you exactly what your future holds.
These are the trappings of an outmoded mysticism—clichés that once spilled over onto the world of astrology.
Thankfully, years ago, a 12-year-old Canadian kid named Chani Nicholas who came from a household that thrived on chaos, discovered something new—a world focused on healing. Her step-grandmother had brought her family to an astrology session, and Nicholas was at once transfixed.
As she told Shondaland, “It was a language that was immediately familiar to me. This is how you know you’re an astrologer, or an artist, writer or a journalist … you meet the thing that you’re supposed to engage with. It calls you and doesn’t really let you go. It’s something you’re immediately in conversation with, not even knowing how you understand it, but it’s something that you deeply understand.”
But as she delved deeper into astrology, she began to notice a pattern: the literature of the field was most often dominated by straight white men—and thus everything tended to be framed from that viewpoint.
Nicholas never thought of astrology as a potential career. (For the record, she was warned by her astrological charts that she would be a late bloomer.) Over the years she studied at a counselor advocate program and worked at an LGBTQ+ community hotline, acted, waitressed, tended bar and taught yoga—and yet she dreamt of the planets. While pursuing a degree at the California Institute of Integral Studies, she began writing essays—and one way or another, astrology kept finding its way to the pieces. Horoscopes flowed from her pen next, and she posted them to a blog—and in the process, Nicholas began dragging astrology out of the patchouli-drenched purview of the past.
The most immediately striking thing about Nicholas’ horoscopes is that they are free of tropes and the expected. They don’t promise that, say, Geminis should buy a lotto ticket on Tuesday. Rather than a seer, she likens her role to a guide reading a map, and sees astrology as a frame for the world that offers context to people, a tool to help them live better. Her work is thoughtful and meditative—and often political. In her horoscopes she has touched upon everything from Net Neutrality to the rising oceans to Trump. For that reason and others, she expected readers to hate her horoscopes … but the opposite happened. She never saw astrology as a career, but with pageviews soaring to a million and 300,000 Instagram followers, it suddenly became one.
As her work bloomed, so too has an entirely new modern universe of astrology.
As she told The Los Angeles Times, “I think that it’s a yearning to return to something. There’s a rejection of things that don’t work. Socialism isn’t new, and astrology definitely isn’t new, and earthly spirituality or living in accordance with the earth’s rituals isn’t new, it’s ancient. I think we’re yearning for something that technology cannot give us, that capitalism cannot give us.”
The wind has carried that antiquated incense into the past. In its wake, readers have found a fresh clarity—including, no doubt, Nicholas.
After all, as she told The New York Times, “My work—every horoscope, all of it—is just me talking to myself. I guess I need to always know that I’m not in it alone.”
To ring in this episode of Design Matters With Debbie Millman, here we present an excerpt from the introduction to Nicholas’ new book, You Were Born for This: Astrology for Radical Self-Acceptance.
—Zachary Petit, Design Matters Media Editor-in-Chief
“The first time I encountered astrology was the first time I remember feeling seen. I was eight years old. Living in a small town snuggled in the base of the Rockies, I was surrounded by both the immeasurable beauty of nature and the unforgiving wreckage of addiction. I spent a lot of my childhood alone. While the adults in my life partied and self-destructed with wanton abandon, I watched The Cosby Show and dreamed of a life with parents, siblings, grandparents, and a lineage to claim me. When the party came home, I felt a different kind of loneliness. An overdose, a fatal accident, a shotgun fired, a conviction. I knew what cocaine tasted like by the time I was five. I knew not to tell anyone about anything that happened in my home. I was terrified all the time.
“So I hid. I hid in any bathroom with a lock on the door. I hid inside a self-constructed personality that was aloof, sarcastic, and remote. I hid to protect my excruciatingly sensitive and porous being from the sharp edges of adult sorrows that swallowed my childhood. As those around me wreaked havoc, it wasn’t uncommon for me to find myself in some makeshift shack up a dirt road, with adults I did not want to be with, witnessing events that I was unable to make sense of or navigate. I was in such a situation on that fateful day I first encountered astrology. A total stranger, a skinny, white woman with unkept hair and an unloved look in her eyes, gave me a gift I have never forgotten. Armed with only my birthdate, she looked up the location of the planets on the day I was born, gazed at me with a glimmer in her eye, and said, “You’re very judgmental.” Yes. Yes I am, I thought with pride. I had no real idea what that word actually meant, but I immediately resonated with what I felt it implied. She was distinguishing me from my surroundings. She saw that I possessed the kind of discernment that others around me lacked. I had judgment, and, with it, I would find a way out of this mess.
“Though I never met her again, that brief interaction gave me something to hold on to. It may have only been a thread, but when that’s all you’ve got it feels like spun gold. In a situation that threatened to obliterate me, someone looked down at a book of symbols and numbers and used astrology to uncover a truth about me that would save my life. Being witnessed is essential to our humanity, our growth, and our ability to move past the trauma that we have survived. If astrology does its job, it offers a mirror in which we see both our best selves and our growth edges.”
Get the book here.
Photo credit: Luke Fontana