Decolonizing Astrology with Alice Sparkly Kat

From Vedic to I Ching, Evolutionary to esoteric, there are so many different practices of astrology. Astrology is essentially a tool for transformation. A recognition of one’s connection to the Universe and everything in it allows us to do better by ourselves and the world around us. What is the most popular/ easily accessed form(s) of astrology in the west and what are ways these practices replicate oppressive structures? 

The type of astrology that is most popular in the west is modern astrology. When we deal with modern astrology, we have to understand that it comes from modernity and modernism. Modernity was a movement that was all about erecting these neoclassical ideals through modern materials, with glass panes and steel structures. Modernism was patriarchal reordering, where Europe extracted cultural stuff from its colonies while treating the people in those colonies as less than human. The two “grandfathers” of modern astrology—Alan Leo and Dane Rudhyar—were part of modern and modernist movements. They cited India as a source, didn’t cite any Indian astrologers, made up their own ideas about caste structures to reinforce Europe’s race supremacy, and saw Europe and the colonies in this weird, binary gendered dynamic.

So, it’s not just that western astrology uses Roman names and deities and reinforces white supremacy in that way. It’s that this use of Rome is anachronistic—it comes from the 1930s. It’s part of a larger movement in which Europe was trying to revive itself using neoclassicalism, much like how fascists were looking to Rome to unify Germany but then were also appropriating swastikas. If you look at the history, western astrology tends to revive when there is a perceived sense of white loss because it is understood through this neoclassical aesthetic. It became very popular in the American South after the Civil War as well.

What does it mean for BIPOC to decolonize astrology? How do we as displaced people, settler colonists living inside the structures of white supremacy, capitalism and the patriarchy begin to even think about this move?

The first thing that we have to understand is that decolonization is not a hashtag. It’s not a purely cultural movement. Decolonization of astrology, of how we understand ourselves and our environment, has to happen with land reparations.

Astrology is about orienting yourself to the world. The language of astrology is completely founded upon cultural belonging. In western astrology, planets that are “dignified” are “at home” and planets that are “in detriment” are “in exile.” This language is not apolitical. If you look at the history of settler colonialism, who was defined as settling and who was defined as transient was racial. White people settled. Indigenous, black, Mexican, and Asian workers were transient and were criminalized for transiency. That isn’t to say that relations among BIPOC are equal—they’re not. It just means that settlerism, citizenship, and cultural belonging don’t come from a question of whether or not you were born on the land that your ancestors come from (indigenous people are also criminalized for being “foreign”) but come from power—white power.

What we have to understand about modernity and also whiteness, since whiteness is often conflated with modernity, is that white people were not the ones who built it. How could they? Settlers did not move to America or Australia to do any labor. They were here to own. The labor that built modernity is slave labor, coolie labor, and indigenous labor on indigenous land. Navajo women used their ancestral weaving technologies to design our first circuit boards. New York City was built by Africans who came with woodworking skills that they learned in Africa. All the interfaces that we use to access the digital world today are made by Asian women. All of the materials that construct modernity—cotton, steel, oil, sugar, tea—are extracted from stolen land and exploited labor. All of the technologies that make modernity come from people of color. Whiteness is not something that was forced on us from the outside but something that we were forced to build.

We built and continue to build modernity. So much of the meanings without modern astrology, with Venus getting its sexual associations through what sex work has historically meant, Mars being wrapped up in the enemy or foreigner or terrorist, or Mercury dealing with the extraction of labor, has people of color already in it since modernity is something that can’t exist without people of color. Nothing in modernity can exist without people of color, not sex work, not labor, not the military industrial complex. We’re already living inside of every modern language, including modern astrology. White astrologers might be able to pretend that there’s a direct line between Rome and the modern West but we know that’s not true due to the stories we hear from our elders and ancestors. We understand that our histories of survival are complicated inside of anything that is modern, including modern astrology.

To decolonize, we have to completely rethink cultural ownership and belonging. The people who are thought to own modernity, to have contributed the most to it, did none of the productive labor and only owned enterprises, plantations, and corporations. These people have the privilege of belonging or settling, even in places outside of the West thanks to globalization. As people of color, we have to figure out how we want to belong and how we want to own. We can’t mimic the vocabularies of white people since they will just perpetuate the same problems. This is the work of decolonizing astrology—it’s the work of decolonizing how we relate to the world, whether that’s through belonging or owning or something else. We have to do this work with the direct action and with reparations. The material and cultural work have to happen at the same time, since neither can happen without the other.

Decolonization is a lifelong process that begins with the individual and is applied to all varying aspects of life. Once on this journey that is undoubtedly not an easy one, we begin to foster a self awakening that allows us to heal past traumas buried deep within us. How has committing to a decolonized practice of astrology and wellness in general allow for an enhanced sense of your own Self?  

Astrology is kind of a weird, niche language. The best thing about it is that a lot of queers and a lot of people of color are actively participating in it right now. That’s the best thing about it! There’s nothing inherently liberating about astrology. It’s just as supremacist and capitalist and patriarchal as a lot of other languages, such as art or theory or psychology.

But! We’re here. We’re using it, misusing it, remixing it, and abusing it. We’re making sure that our stories get heard and that we listen to each other using it. When I think about what’s going on with astrology, I think about how there’s so many lesbians in the K-pop boy band fandom. We use these random cis men as our barbies or literary drag skins to turn each other on and comfort each other. K-pop is very much a queer space, of transpeople, nb, and femmes loving other transpeople, nb, and femmes, even though all the images are of cis men. What queers do with K-pop—that’s what people of color and queers are doing with the pseudo-Roman figures in modern astrology.

The best thing about astrology is that I’ve been able to develop a practice where I get to heal members of my community on issues of racial trauma, sexual trauma, displacement, loss—there’s no readymade vocabulary within a lot of therapeutic language to talk about these issues. A lot of the vocabulary that we have to address mental health goes back to Rome (paranoia, anxiety, depression all being Latin words). I chose to use astrology and not counseling because you don’t have to go through the institution to become an astrologer. What you have to do to become an astrologer is to commit to community work. You have to learn your perspective through people and I’ve been lucky to have work where I develop relationships with immigrant elders and kids that I learn through. That’s the only way you’re going to develop your language and your practice. Because this is the way astrology works, I’ve been able to feel supported.

Alice Sparkly Kat is a queer, PoC astrologer. They use astrology to re-chart a history of the subconscious, redefine the body in world, and reimagine history as collective memory. Alice offers sliding scale astrology options