Astrology is a very old discipline. Its foundational concepts, as well as most of its many elaborations and diverse avenues of thought, were created and flourished within societies with very traditional frameworks. As much as Western astrology has spent a good deal of the past two thousand years ‘on the outside’, first with the Catholic Church and more recently with the scientific/academic community, it has generally worked within cultural norms and mores.
Astrologers are so used to being marginalized in modern Western culture – mavericks at best, self-apologists at worst – that they might miss the extent to which they may perpetuate assumptions and value judgments that fail to reflect the diversity and complexity of contemporary society. As Ian Waisler says on page 3 of his introductory chapter, Why a Queer Astrology? ‘… for the most part, self-inquiry around how we as astrologers uphold or confront cultural norms tends to fall to the background. And who could blame us … when in the eyes of so many self-validating outside critics, astrology is the “gold standard of superstition?”’
As an example of entrenched cultural biases, astrology is filled with gender assumptions: is the Sun really masculine and the Moon feminine? Mythologist Joseph Campbell pointed out that East of Iran the genders of Sun and Moon are opposite to those in Europe. Venus is perhaps the ultimate feminine symbol in Western astrology, yet the planet Venus was associated with the male god Quetzacoatl in Mesoamerican astrology. Even in Western astrology, Venus as the morning star has been associated with Lucifer.
Relationship astrology, where two charts are compared in order to explore compatibility, is another area rife with gender and cultural assumptions. The famous studies done by Carl Jung in the early 20th century examined successful marriages, with a particular emphasis on the positions of the masculine Sun and feminine Moon in the charts of the man and woman. While appropriate enough for the era, such assumptions are hard to maintain in an era where marriage is not assumed, partnerships may be straight or gay, and gender identifications are fluid.
Queer Astrology Anthology is an interesting collection of articles related to lectures at the 2013 Queer Astrology Conference. There are some transcriptions of the question-and-answer sessions, and a few of the chapters are entirely transcriptions. The editors have thus attempted to give the reader some sense of the dynamics of the event – a tactic that always hits-and-misses in print.
The book is grounded in the qualitative research approach of Queer Theory, and indeed it has a more academic bent than most books on astrology. I found it refreshing that the contributors were able to reach outside of astrology, and thus contextualize it. Astrology itself is a vast and somewhat disorganized field, but most of the time the authors avoid overgeneralization (an ironic, but by no means impossible, error for anyone attempting to queer a subject).
Queer Cosmos is Colin Bedell’s first book, and he has done an excellent job of combining an overview of the need for a queer astrology with a more practical expression of how it might look. In his introductory chapter, Bedell says that the book was written, ‘to be one of many comparative resources attempting to integrate the constellation of astrology, queer studies, universal spiritual themes, and skills for personal growth’ (page xv). That’s an ambitious project, but it becomes more manageable when seen from the perspective of the inherent unity of these themes. To do the work of integration is daunting, but if one starts from a unified perspective they can be unpacked with relative ease.
After his introductory chapter, the author quickly goes on to present the basics of astrology – planets and signs – recast from a queer perspective, that is, freed as far as possible from heteronormative assumptions. A section on each sign ‘in love’ presents relationship astrology similarly recast from a queer perspective. These latter sections allow the reader to jump to descriptions of the dynamics their own sign (and the sign of significant others) to gain immediate insight. The book concludes with interviews with others who are advocating a queer astrology, with the author’s intent to transcend any of his own biases by presenting other perspectives.
Queer Cosmos is a very accessible book that requires no prior knowledge of astrology beyond an awareness of one’s Sun Sign (or simply, sign), although it makes an interesting read for those with more astrological experience. It is an excellent alternative to popular astrology books and websites that assume a heterosexual bias, and it is a wonderful resource for straight as well as LGBTQIA (i.e., queer) people. Colin Bedell has done a great job of explaining why astrology needs to become free of its biases, and has gone on to present a solid example of how astrology might then appear.