The Power and Purpose of Astrology with Emmalea Russo

Hi Emmalea! How are you? 

I’m okay. How are you? 

I’m good! There’s been a gap since we’ve last talked but I feel like I stay connected to you through everything you’re offering—like your classes and newsletter. Can we talk a little about Arthouse Astrology first? Can you tell me what led you to create this astrology portal?

Yes. Our connection feels related to us both being poets who are interested in making astrology a dynamic part of daily life, yes? I started these Arthouse Astrology classes almost immediately after quarantine as a way to connect with people and consider this new reality we found ourselves in through a cosmic lens. It was important to me that the classes were not only financially accessible, but also that they exist in an environment that felt connective, real, fun — the deinstitutionalization of knowledge, as bell hooks has said. Cosmic Edges was the first class (and I thought it would be the only one), but we’ve done five. I wanted to open up a discussion around how astrology, like art, is about ways of seeing and being. And in quarantine (or even when we feel quarantined) we lose certain kinds of light/sight while gaining others. We looked at hidden or sequestered or more dimly lit regions of the sky.

I started the Arthouse Astrology newsletter/blog a few years ago as a way to think out loud re: astrology, art, pop culture, film — to think critically and electrically about it — beyond astrology as a psychological roadmap. I’m a writer first, which is inseparable from my astrology practice. The planet/god Mercury rules astrology and also writing, poetry, travel, communication. Fascinatingly, these are all ways of moving between worlds, staying curious, playful, translighting light. Staying nimble. “Cosmic rigor” is a phrase from Artaud’s writing on theatre, but I love it for astrology, too.

I agree we are similar in many ways! I think I once mentioned this to you, but years ago I read charts as a way to make money. This was in 2013/14/15 and I wasn’t really making any money off of writing. It was depressing, and I was stubborn so I didn’t want to get another job. So I found that it was reasonable to make money (albeit not a lot) through “beautifully written charts” by me. I think, in a way, I was also doing it as an offering because I love this idea of making astrology more accessible, and not this mystical abstract thing as it once. It informs so much of my writing as well, so I think we’re both coming at in different but similar ways. One of the reasons Arthouse Astrology is such an important thing to me is because it allows people that very foundational understanding of astrology, but in a really poetic way. Reading you always shows me how much you enjoy writing/reading—you quote Hélène Cixous, Marguerite Duras and June Jordan to name a few—it’s so wonderful. What made you create “Cosmic Edges”?

“Beautifully written charts” is lovely. Astrology is the “word of the stars.” So, how we deliver or brainstorm the cosmos is a major part of the art — the word, or Mercury — moving and divining. Reading and writing is how I process reality. As you say, I cite writers and thinkers like Cixous, Duras, June Jordan — lots of poetry, current happenings, and film alongside planets and transits — informing each other. Astrology charts are written, read, and interacted. So, living. I like to see them first as visual information, too. We live in a culture of images, for better or worse, and I like the idea of learning to read astrology charts and themes alongside of/in conversation with the images that we’re met with constantly in daily life via instagram, google, whatever. We’re flooded by images! It’s essential to be able to decipher them, think critically about them, practice. 

Astrology is, as I mentioned, a Mercury-ruled situation. And Mercury is a psychopomp — an androgynous messenger god who escorts souls between the heavens and underworld. This means Mercury, in its purest essence, is non-judging, playful, and a professional amateur. Curious, curious, curious. Mercury’s allegiance is to information. This is why astrology is not a religion/belief system or a science. There’s nothing to “prove,” which is easy to forget, because we like “proof.” I think we’re living in a time where it’s easier to be a fan or a detractor rather than a critical thinker or reader. Internet culture means it’s easier to “like” or “not like” rather than pausing, thinking, making connections. We lose Mercury.

Cosmic Edges (I thought maybe 20 people would sign up; 120 people did!) was also a way to enter astrology from its “edges” — to find unexpected ways into the cosmos via poets like Cynthia Cruz and Louise Gluck, Prince’s music, qualities of light at different points of the sky, and planets as entities with their own agendas and interests. 

In her work, bell hooks talks about how love is antithetical to dominance culture, and sadly, we live in exactly that. This translates, of course, to how we see astrology, ourselves, each other. I tend to really emphasize the importance of forming relationships with the planets, with the/your sky. This makes room for love and subverts the whole dominance-submission predicament. As you probably know, the tendency can be (even if we don’t realize it) to want to dominate the stars (what can these planets do for us, how can we use them to our advantage?) or feel frightened that they’ll dominate us (fuck, what are they going to do?) How can we form relationships with these planets? Call them directly? Make dialogue? Relate based on love? 

I taught a 7-week Venus retrograde class called Venus Daze, as you know. It was so fun — a space for devotedly looking at/thinking about Venus’s maneuvers while connecting her with our own lives, revolution, politics, art, etc. We talked about phoning the planets direct: 1-800-VENUS. Someone in the class even made a postcard that said 1-800-VENUS over a photo of Venus as the evening star. When I got it in the mail, I got teary! How we regard the planets can be a school for how we treat each other. How can we be more human(e) in these really device-drenched, techy times?

Gah! You said so much I want to touch on, but firstly: “word of the stars.” Wow. I had no idea. I guess this segues into my next question, what have you seen that has been gained by this experience for yourself or even the folks that have participated so far? As you said, you’re pastiching disparate ideas, but bringing them together in such artful ways while making them accessible—for me, that’s such a beautiful act of service. With Studio Ānanda, that’s been the goal, to make healing information accessible and fun to anybody who wants to know more. All this information has been stolen or appropriated by whiteness or capitalism, so giving it back to the people is definitely a mission of mine. Everyone should have access to these things! So, I want to hear first about what kind of immediate impact you’ve seen though Cosmic Edges. You obviously see the value of people knowing more about their charts and learning about astrology and it excites me to know that so many folks (120!) just want to know and learn more.

On the last day of our Venus Daze workshop, someone asked me if making these classes has changed me. The short answer is: yes. I’ve learned so much about holding digital space and creating artful, slow, interesting classes instead of “content.” Or, just creating for the sake of having something to sell. I see these workshops and writings as part of my artistic practice. So, in one way, they’re part of a very long and large unfolding process. In another way, they’re about connection — which is the true nature of love, of Venus. 

Two things come to mind. First: the ethics and nuances of where and how we direct our attention. These spaces (zoom, social media, etc.) are not neutral. They really prize guru-ization. Instagram, as a capitalist tool, is built for audiences, not community. In these classes, which are always experimental, I really strive for community. Example: I center the chat feature. The conversations have become quite epic — hilarious, wild, smart, dynamic — with something like 7,000 words on average per class. People supporting each other, affirming, going deep. How can we prioritize connection over audience or “engagement” and not be transactional, not turn everything into capital, especially when we live in an attention economy?  

Second, everything is more generative and aerated when we don’t center our own astrologies. This means that while we all have certain qualities, fates, and sky atmospheres, we’re also all connected — part of one cosmic situation. So, I like to focus first on the seeing, the discerning, the play — at least in the workshops, rather than our own individual charts. Obviously, 1-1 sessions are a different animal. And I love them! I love divining and chatting about individual astrology. However, I am really devoted to astrology as a slow art. I think this transactionality is everywhere in this white supremacist captialist patriarchy we live in. Divination is not transactional. 

This ancient information, that in practice should be accessible to all, rarely is. It’s so powerful to hear about anti-capitalist reclamation of healing modalities such as astrology, because I think what you’re saying (and what I believe as well) is that astrology is an incredible tool for healing. Of course it’s all interpretative, but I think there’s something immensely powerful in surrendering to divination methods. The more I’ve done that, the more I’ve helped my anxiety or fears. I’m not kidding, I think understanding myself astrologically has made me love myself more, and therefore lend that care to others as well. We’re obviously in the middle of a pandemic and global revolution for Black liberation—how do you think folks can use astrology to benefit themselves and the work for these times?

I like how you say that the more you’ve surrendered to divination modalities, the less fear you have. That’s totally beautiful. And it’s why I got into this whole astrology thing in the first place. Less about “curing” and quick fixes and way more about sensing, seeing, learning. I remember the first time I really studied my chart and learned about where my Venus is located and what it’s going through in my sky, I felt seen in a way I had never felt in therapy or university. I love therapy and school, so that’s not a dig. I actually get chills when I talk about it, even now — feeling witnessed/mirrored by the sky in that way. But astrology is another way into the self, and therefore the world. And it’s not necessarily about fixing, which we aren’t used to in these times. We like solutions, formulas. Astrology teaches about cycles of time — historically and also via different planetary speeds (the moon moves quite differently than Mercury, for instance). 

Re: your very important question about using astrology to benefit people during this global pandemic and movement for Black liberation — I think, again, it’s about seeing. When we can find different points of entry into our situations, we start to think about justice, love, and equity in new ways. We need new ways. The system, as they say, is not failing. It’s working quite well. And that’s frightening. Capitalism, which is inherently tied to systemic racism and all kinds of oppression, is tricky — because it has a way of recuperating even subversion and transgression back into the machine, making them trendy. Think of the wellness industrial complex. Healing modalities have been co-opted and made consumptive instead of accessible or revolutionary. 

When we work with astrology, art, etc. in ways that are engaged in critical discourse and not about groupthink or greed or “getting stuff” out of each other or the planets, we start to subvert our own systems. We begin to look at each other and ourselves as citizens. These times have a way of depoliticizing….everything. Astrology is not apolitical. Ditto wellness. How we care for each other and ourselves, what we choose to center or relegate to the edges is deeply political. What happens if we see ourselves as citizens who are responsible to each other instead of merely individuals on a path? Somewhere along the way, healing modalities started being about self-care at the expense of community care. 

Precisely. I think what’s so cool is that in order for us to truly be anti-Capitalist, we are realizing that we have to address and face ourselves. That there can’t just be supplementary pleasures that fill those gaping holes anymore. I’ve realized in 2020—almost more and more as the year goes by—s that I need to completely align with myself, politically, spiritually and physically (as in how I embody those two things in my human form) so that means if I’m saying I’m anti-Capitalist, I’m not trying to surreptitiously hoard money or you know placate my shopping addiction. Studio Ānanada and everything we are trying to achieve, is creating an alternative language for cultural exchange, on multiple levels. 

I think a lot of folks often say you can’t be perfect like an adage, but I’m sorry this is so diabolical, but recently I’ve been wondering what would it mean to try to attain perfect spiritual standards? Of course those are subjective, but I’m curious about the possibility. What astrology offers is just another way to familiarize ourselves with our truths so that we can attain spiritual highs/heights. What are ways you’d direct folks who want to know more astrology who want to go deeper?

This makes me think of that Barbara Kruger piece: “I shop therefore I am.” Shopping brain applies to everything, right? The way we interact with each other, the world, art, astrology. Being against capitalism while in a capitalist system is a real mindfuck. Mark Fisher writes about how the danger of capitalism is its pervasiveness, the fact that there appears to be “no other alternative.” I like how you say “diabolical.” Shopping for happiness is diabolical, and often we don’t even know we’re doing it. Freaky. 

In “Love as the Practice of Freedom,” bell hooks writes: “Acknowledging the truth of our reality, both individual and collective is a necessary stage for personal and political growth.” I see astrology as a way to acknowledge “the truth of our reality.” Of course, like anything, it can be an escape hatch. It’s all about how we engage. I wrote about astrology as a love practice here

I was listening to a James Hillman lecture a while back and he was, I think paraphrasing someone, but he said something like: “By the time you’ve figured out what part of yourself the homeless person represents, you’ve already walked by the homeless person.” That beautifully and disturbingly sums it up. To really see each other’s predicaments and beauties, there has to be some kind of unhooking from the attention economy, from selfie mode, from shopping for truth. Humor helps, too.

What future astrology excites you, if any?

I’m psyched by the fact that so many people are into the stars, tuning into astrology in dynamic ways — queering it, radicalizing it, going to the root and history of it, applying it to these times. I feel most excited by critical discourse — creating space for really asking questions, making mistakes, fucking up, coming together, laughing. Astrology as art, astrology as a way to be more human(e)! I’m excited about the houses — an often misunderstood or glazed-over part of astrology. I’m doing a special series called Strange Mansions for newsletter subscribers in October. 

Specifically: the Saturn-Jupiter conjunction on December 21st. Vibe change.

Any last thoughts you’d like to share?

I adore you! I love this work you’re doing. Thank you. 

My website:

My newsletter: (the main way to stay in touch, get this work daily is to subscribe, as I’m taking a long break from classes!)


Classes to download:

Personalized astrology write-ups:

Instagram: @arthouse.astrology

And if you want to create a soundtrack to the 10 planets, what would they be?

AH! I love this question. I actually create playlists for Arthouse classes because music sets such a mood, creates a container. We’re all pretty into them.

Here’s one for VENUS DAZE 

Here’s one for the (MOON)WRITING WORKSHOP 

My list for Studio Ananda/Soundtrack to the Planets

Sun: Celebrity Skin by Hole / I Want to See You by Alice Coltrane

Moon: Swim Good by Frank Ocean

Mercury: All My Little Worlds by The Magnetic Fields / Wreath by Perfume Genius

Venus: The First Wave Birth of Venus by Suzanne Ciani 

Mars: Little Red Corvette by Prince

Jupiter: No Sleep Till Brooklyn by the Beastie Boys

Saturn: The Disintegration Loops by William Basinsky (all four albums!)

Uranus: Technologic by Daft Punk

Neptune: Dreams by Fleetwood Mac / Heroin by The Velvet Underground

Pluto: When the Man Comes Around by Johnny Cash / Love Song for a Vampire by Annie Lennox