Susan Miller has always been aware of the link between the arts and astrology. “People say, ‘Oh, astrology and photography, very different,’” she muses as she recounts being approached by Time Warner to write Astrology Zone in 1995 after years of working as an agent for commercial photographers. “No. One is a Polaroid you’re looking at of symbolism that the photographer has crystallized and one is the Polaroid of the sky, so to speak. It’s really the same. You’re still deciphering through your right brain what it all means.” Her latest project, the hefty coffee table book Astrology, the second installation in Taschen’s popular Library of Esoterica series, for which she wrote the forward, compiles paintings, drawings, prints and more throughout history that reflect the enduring appeal of the stars and their symbols.
Miller has been the glamorous grand dame of astrology for over a decade. You’ve most likely read her columns in countless fashion magazines, including Elle, InStyle, and 15 years with W Korea, or heard talk of her monthly horoscopes on her website, Astrology Zone, that notoriously run upwards of 45,000 words each. She has collaborated on calendars with Gloria Vanderbilt, worked with Kenzo on the release of their TALI bag last year, and has frequently been described as the go-to astrologer of the fashion set and celebrities alike.
Miller has spent most of the pandemic in her apartment on New York’s Upper East Side, where she’s been writing and quietly working on her app, Daily Horoscope AstrologyZone. She’s also had a chance to reflect on the state of her career. “My sister called me up and said, ‘You found the key to the universe,’” she recalls, speaking on the phone this week. “I said, ‘What? What? What are you talking about?’ She said, ‘The older you get, the more valuable you are in your field.’” That being said, like many, 2020 hasn’t been easy for the legendary astrologer. Beset by chronic illness, Miller’s most recent struggle has affected her eyesight. Still, she remains as effervescent as her reputation suggests, sharing with W her favorite apps, her love of Julia Child’s souffles, and what to expect in the upcoming “Age of Aquarius.”
Can you tell me a little bit about what drew you to your newest project, Astrology, in the first place?
Well they called me. I was very, very honored. They said, “Will you write the introduction?” I was, “Wow.” I was, “Yes.” I always loved symbols. Before I was an astrologer full-time, I was always a secret. I didn’t tell people, because my mother said I had to study 12 years before I told a single person. I was 15 when I started. She didn’t want to teach me. She fought me every inch of the way saying, “This is serious work, and you must know what you’re doing. You must be accurate. There’s a lot of math, but there’s a lot of philosophy and lots of things that go into it.”
I listened to her. I was born with a birth defect. Then when I went in the hospital when I was 14, I was in for 11 months, and I came out with a brace on my leg up to my hip and two crutches, and I just wanted to know if I’d ever walk again. That was what led me to astrology. But I was so suited for it, I loved unlocking the symbolism, or just even the glimpse. The symbols have such rich meaning. They aren’t just published willy-nilly just to represent a planet. There’s background to it.
As a designer, I found the breadth of illustrations and artwork in the book really interesting.
Some of them look like The Book of Hours—you know the ones that the monks used to do? It’s exciting for me, because I can read a chart, and it doesn’t matter if it’s from that age or from current age, the symbols are the same. I can reach back in time. I can also look at someone who was king in the 1300s, if we know his time of birth, and be able to read that chart, because with astrology, you can go backwards or forwards in time.
Why do you think astrology holds so much appeal to artists?
That’s a right-brain thing. I think if you want to be a good astrologer, you have to have an active right brain. Also, the artist’s job is to present something that the populous has been thinking about, but hasn’t been aware of it, because the artist is always a precursor of what’s to come. That’s part of the role of an artist. What’s emerging in society and where we are? You can tell so much about people from the age they lived in and what was operating on them at the time, what the mores were and the social climate. In a way, this book helps you see that too, which is nice. I think people who are drawn to it who are in the arts. If you love art, you usually love astrology.
As someone who’s been at the forefront of astrology for many years, can you talk about how you’ve seen it change throughout your career?
Well, it just is much more acceptable, but I feel that the public can’t seem to discern between someone with a lot of experience and no experience at all. I say if you’re choosing an astrologer, find out if they’ve written anything. Read their articles. Read a book, if they’ve got one out there. Talk to other people that have gone to that person. How was your experience? Did you find it helpful and enlightening, or did you feel anxious? How did you feel afterwards? On Google, they’ll tell you if they have any social media or if they’re on television. There are a lot of people you can go to. Choose wisely, because you’re giving a part of your brain to that person, and they will have a strong effect on you. When my mother taught me astrology, that was a big portion of what we talked about all the time. You must be careful what you say. You must be sure about what you say. You must get feedback from the person after you see them. Call them back after two or three weeks. Find out how an aspect played out. Always offer several solutions, never just one.
But there are two kinds of astrology, and this is important. I do predictive astrology. I tell you when to act and when to hold back. You always have the key. You can decide to ignore me. You have free will. The other astrology is psychological astrology. That I don’t do. Some people devote their whole life to that. They won’t do predictive, and they talk about you as a child and growing up under your mother, but I just very lightly touch on that. I don’t like to do psychological astrology, because I feel you are a better judge of your mood, your feelings, your whole emotional state than I can be, because you’re living in that body. I find it pretentious for an astrologer to tell you how you’re feeling. That’s a very controversial view. Very.
I feel like a lot of times people look to astrology, especially during a pandemic, because they want to know what’s in store for the future.
Well, especially if they lost their job. We’ve been through the hurricane, and now the rebuilding process starts next year after we can venture out of our houses, and we’re on the beach looking at the houses that didn’t make it. The restaurants. Governor Cuomo said, “We can decide as a society what we want. Do we want exactly the same thing?” I think many of us felt we were traveling too much or commuting too much, and maybe that we would like to change that. I think the home office is here to stay. The Wall Street Journal just said, “No, it’s not here to stay. Everybody’s going to go back to the office,” and I don’t think so. I don’t agree with that writer, not with the planets that I’m seeing. We have changed permanently by the pandemic. It will have a lasting effect. Even the way food—I think we’re going to cut down on a lot of transport. I think things are going from one place to another, and it’s too far. We’re burning fuel, we’re polluting the air, the environment’s going to be a huge thing, because it’s very Aquarius. Also, Aquarius loves organic food, and they don’t like meat. They like meatless, plant-based. So you’re going to see a lot more. I know they have the Beyond Burger, but to me, that’s processed food.
We’re shifting into a new age of Aquarius in December, right?
Everything will be Aquarian. Aquarius doesn’t care if you like them or not. That’s just the opposite of social media. They say, “That dress doesn’t look good on you.” “I don’t care. I like it.” They don’t care, and that’s their strength. And they’re always right, because they tend to be ahead of the rest of us, because their ruler is Uranus, the planet of genius. It takes the information of Mercury and resynthesizes it into something new and innovative, but uses all the intellectual properties of Mercury, because Uranus is the higher octave of Mercury, taking it into a whole new realm of genius. Just like Venus is love, but Neptune is the higher octave, where it takes the love of Venus and brings it into unconditional love, a love of strangers and love of people and compassion for people. I love astrology to peel back the layers.
What’s the first thing you read in the morning?
I get the New York Times to my door, which I know is old fashioned, but I like a newspaper, and I feel I should support it, because I’m in publishing.
Is that how you get all of your news?
Oh no. I’m such a news junkie. I love television when I’m working. So I watched CBS this morning with Gayle King. Now this morning, I can only watch an hour or maybe even 45 minutes. I have it stopped so that I can watch the rest of it later, because they usually have interesting facts that you don’t get anywhere else about different subjects. For example, they had one on architecture and how architecture was changing because of the pandemic. Big buildings have to be able to move their walls at will and change into different functions, depending on what’s needed, and we have to look at the air quality in a totally different way, and how air moves through a building. Literally, every part of society has been touched by this. Usually good things come out of it, because remember, the Spanish Flu, New York was pretty dirty. Sanitation laws really blossomed after that. We usually learn something. I always want to ask my readers what did you learn about yourself, about the world during this crisis? How did you use your time?
With the rise of short, snackable astrology popular in apps, you’ve stuck to your signature longform content.
It’s just the way my brain works. I don’t know how to do short.
Did your writing change when you started making an app?
The ethos of the internet is less formal than the front page to the New York Times. My readers do this all the time. They ask me, they all know about my eyes and that I’ve been going through a very hard time. They all said, “Why don’t you just dictate?” I said, “Do you think the articles on the front page of the New York Times or the op-eds or any important part of the newspaper is dictated? A doctor told me that the part of your brain that types is a different part of the brain that dictates. That’s why I can’t dictate. It never comes out right. I have to feel the keys. If you asked me where the T and the U and the V, I wouldn’t know. My fingers know. It’s too important to me that I use new words, that I explain things differently, as best I can. But I have to be careful, because 52% of my audience on the internet is in a different country outside the US. For some people, English is a second language. Have to be careful with idioms. I wish there were a book of idioms. I would buy it in a minute. I want to know what they are in different parts of the world, because they all have a grain of truth in them.
Do you have any other apps that you can’t get enough of?
Did you hear about what3words? What they did was they gridded up the earth in 10-foot squares, the entire earth. You put in your address, and you get the three random dictionary words that correspond to where you are, so that anyone can find you if they need to, like in an emergency. So I know where I am, and I know where my daughter is. I have the Calm app and the Rain app, for when I want to hear nice music. I like Zineo, which gives you foreign magazines. I like that app very much.
What’s the last movie you saw in theaters, if you can remember?
Green Book and Harriet. Oh my god, I loved Harriet Tubman’s movie. I love her life and how brave she was. I even did her chart afterwards. I looked up when she was born. I think she’s Aquarius in how she felt she had to help other people. No, sometimes I’ll do that if I’m inspired by a character. I’ll go back in history and find out when their birthday was and do their chart.
Last piece of art you bought?
My daughter’s husband, his name is Leo Fitzpatrick and is really well-known in the art field. If I do buy art, I will go to Leo and get his advice. He’s written up in Interview Magazine this month.
What books are on your bedside table?
I desperately want to read The Socrates Express: In Search of Life from Dead Philosophers. It’s by Eric Weiner. I also bought a book called When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel Pink There’s certain things you should do at certain times of day. Then somebody sent me Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness by Ingrid Fetelle Lee.
What have you been listening to lately?
The Daily on the New York Times. I’m definitely interested in podcasts, because I find I can’t write without something going on in the background. So I listen to The Daily, and the one about the forest [“The Sunday Read: The Social Life of Forests“] is completely life-changing. It’s about how trees communicate with each other, and bargain with each other, and negotiate for water and nutrients, and how they work with the fungi under the ground. When you map out the roots of the trees, it looks just like the brain. Oh, you will be changed forever when you listen to this podcast about this woman who only studied forests her entire life. She’s an agriculture person.
I have Sirius I can listen to on my phone, and Apple Radio. I found that because of my eyes, I couldn’t see TV, but I would always have CNN on or MSNBC. My kids, they’d usually be listening to podcasts, and I thought, “I don’t know how that’s going to work,” and yet it works even better. I find when you read the Times and you listen to an intelligent podcast, your writing improves. You hear a word and you’re like, “Oh, I like that word. I have to use that word,” and I write it down. So it does influence you. Somehow, it gets into your psyche and you write better.
I’m guessing in quarantine, you didn’t go through the TV binging that everyone else did?
Never. Every year, you exchange one year of your life for the experiences that you are to take in. You have to use your time productively, because time is the only finite resource we’re given. I cook all the time now.
What do you cook?
Well, I didn’t realize that I was in a low-grade depression after my mother died. I lost a lot of my eyesight around the same time. Then Mother’s Day came, and Diana, my daughter who lives in LA, she’s James Corden’s music producer. She’s won five Emmys. Five. She sent me a gift certificate to Blue Apron, and it totally changed my life. I thought, “Oh, well I wonder if I’ll have enough time to cook, but this is so nice.” I am a good cook. Diana said to me, “Mommy, you always cooked, and now you stopped and you’re just doing takeout.” I feel I’m healthier. All you need is a bottle of olive oil, a beautiful bottle, and a non-stick pan, and you’re set. It exposes you to all different cuisines, from French, to African, to Lebanese. I’ve never been adventuresome, but I thought, “Well, I’ll push myself a little. Try different techniques.”
What’s the favorite thing you’ve made, if you have one?
What did I make yesterday? Oh, I made meatloaf with a Calabrian chili sauce. Oh my god, it was so good. I put brussel sprouts with it, but they also had some little potatoes that you roast in the oven with carrot sticks. It looked like something out of Gourmet Magazine. I love it. When I was 20, I went through the Julia Child cookbook, and I made everything. My Grand Marnier souffles are legendary, but you can’t make that for yourself, so I have to have people over, even if it’s only my children. Those come out perfect.
What’s the last thing you do before you go to bed?
Well, I work very, very, very late until 2:00, 3:00, lately 4:00 in the morning, because nobody’s calling, and I don’t have to write out any checks. I’ll call Courtney [O’Reilly, Miller’s Executive Assistant] and say, “I tweeted something. Could you just put that on Instagram what I did?” Because people who read Twitter don’t seem to read Instagram. They’re very different. I like Twitter better.
Much better. Oh, day and night. I am happy when I’m on Twitter. You can get a bigger picture on Twitter. You can also link to an article, like your article will be so easy on Twitter. It’s in the body of what you say. You don’t have to say, “It’s in my profile,” which I find ridiculous.
Do you have anything else upcoming?
I’m going to write an important essay starting today on the Grand Mutation [the alignment of Jupiter and Saturn, also known as the Great Conjunction]. I’m going to do a little bit more research, but it’s happening on December 21st. We haven’t had a Grand Mutation in air since 1405. So I want to do a little bit more research and write it. I’m going to send it out to my newsletter people first before I put it on the internet. I send them out very sporadically. I am only going to send you something that will enrich your life, that you’ll be happy to get. Then the next one is going to be the coming clash between Saturn and Uranus next year. It’s on February 17th. When’s the next one? June 14th, and Christmas Eve. So it’s going to go through the whole year, because they’re such slow-moving planets. Saturn rules the past, and Uranus rules the future. They’re going to be clashing and banging and clanging in birth tanks to create a new society.