Happy birthday to Jessica Lanyadoo, the dynamic, Bay Area-based, Montréal-raised astrologer and psychic medium currently featured in the Cap Sol 2021 issue of TMA. Last summer, I caught up with Lanyadoo, the mastermind behind the successful Ghost of a Podcast, who has appeared in the media as a major public voice of astrology. Our conversation went on for hours, and we had to edit it for space in the magazine. Enjoy this outtake!
Jenn Zahrt: I often hear people claim that astrology is a universal language. Yet, for me the term “universal” is a red flag because it often hides unexamined cultural bias and standards of elitism. What do you think about people using astrology in an essentialist way, stereotyping people based off their chart placements?
Jessica Lanyadoo: I talk about this on my weekly podcast (Ghost of a Podcast) a lot. I fervently believe in only looking at the birth charts of people that I’m in personal relationships with after we’ve established a solid connection because using astrology as a way of pathologizing others or justifying ourselves is a miscalculation.
People come to me all the time and say things like, “Oh, my God, I’m dating this Scorpio, and the Scorpio said this and that, and their ex is a Gemini and they said …” None of that is interesting to me. My questions are always, “Why are you attracting drama? And how are you consenting to participate?” People are always like, look at my partner’s chart, look at my crush’s chart, tell me about how I do with Libras, or whatever it is. And that’s a misunderstanding of astrology.
There’s no reason to believe that all Scorpios of the world are all alike, or Libra Moons, or whatever chart factor you are fixated on. We all have characteristics. Let’s cue the symphony metaphor. There are going to be Libra Moon songs or Scorpio Sun songs (or whatever it is) that just make you explode with joy, and then there will be those who rub you the very wrong way. It has to do with the wholeness of who they are.
People who tend to pathologize or essentialize using astrology usually have very little knowledge of it. The problem seems to stem from astrology being so vast. You have a massive amount of information (or so it seems at first, but really, you’ve barely scratched the surface). This is where people can get led astray. This is the downside of the digital age, with astrology apps and memes. It plays off of stereotypes and the assumption that we are simple, and that relationships are simple.
There’s a level upon which gross generalizations are fine. But that level is at the very first step, it’s the doorway. Once you cross into the door, it becomes really problematic really quickly, and it can lead to deeply held beliefs that are internalized or projected out — or both — that are profoundly harmful and have unintended consequences.
As a very 12th-house person, and an astrologer of many years. I’m really passionate about unintended consequences, because any consulting astrologer will tell you that most people come to your office because they’re dealing with the unintended consequences of choices that they made without realizing they made them, or without thinking through those consequences. That’s just being a human. It’s not a criticism of any person. It’s the journey.
So for me, there’s no merit in essentialism, stereotyping, pathologizing. I do understand that it’s fun for people. And it’s like a gateway drug. And so I’m not trying to make anyone feel bad by saying that — but I do. I’m, I’ve committed my whole life to astrology, and I have a deep investment in protecting its integrity. So it’s hard to not get really intense about this.
JZ: In your practice, you’re asking people — whether that’s your clients or your students or just your public — to take radical (as in rooted in the chart!) responsibility for themselves?
JL: Yes, that’s exactly what it is. No one should be surprised that a triple Capricorn is asking you to please take responsibility for yourself. But it is radical. Foundational. It’s taking responsibility for the assumptions you make before you speak or press “Send.” The gift of astrology is knowing that some people are naturals at certain things, and some people are not. There’s a great value in being present and considering, if it’s not your nature, how within your nature can you get the same outcome through a different process? This is what’s really important. We don’t all have to use the same process to achieve the same aims, right?
JZ: That’s a wise take on personal process and progress. How do you envision making progress in a larger scope of the practice of astrology?
JL: Progress is not exactly a word I identify with, so let’s say “grow.” I wouldn’t say that the craft of astrology needs to grow; I would say the world of astrology needs to grow. Here’s a case in point. When I first learned astrology, all of my original books were published before the 1990s, and I literally had written an “s” in front of all of the generalized “he’s” so that they say “she.” As a queer person, I had to read in between the lines.
There was also nothing about immigration, and let me tell you why. Because it was all white men writing these books. There were many books by white women as well, but they passed through the gatekeepers, who were straight white dudes. We need to address gatekeeping. And we need to have more diverse voices, more diverse perspectives in the field, with a seat at the table and with a microphone in hand. Because when that occurs, organically, inevitably, the body of knowledge available in the world of astrology grows, too.
I take issue with a lot of classical astrology that a lot of my colleagues highly regard. There are some critical problems with the core concepts. We have had to make do because it’s ancient.
I’m excited about what I see happening in the field. Due to the democratization of the internet, and social media, we are self-publishing, and because we are self-publishing, thousands and hundreds of thousands of people are getting interested in our take. So, the gatekeepers have to rethink their strategies and invite us in. It’s inevitable. We’re creating our own table.
That said, I also wish there was more of an intergenerational conversation happening. I’m hopeful that that will happen. The innovators have a lot of data, and the people who’ve been doing this for a long time, who’ve gone through more transits and seen more people go through more transits, who’ve seen the craft evolve in their lived experience … There’s so much for us to learn from one another. We’re living in a really intense moment.
JZ: I want to ask you about that. Given your strong digital media presence — with your podcast and your new app — I felt a little bit like a dinosaur coming to you from a print magazine and asking for an interview. In the 1990s, TMA was one of the main sources of astrological information, if not the main source in the US. Now, there are so many webinars, blogs, podcasts, and apps. From your vantage point, how are people learning about astrology and consuming astrological information now?
JL: This is a cause of concern for me, and also for a lot of people who came up before the advent of the internet. People seem to be primarily learning astrology on their own through blogs, YouTube videos, TikToks, podcasts, then of course, through these apps, right? Except all of these resources are not necessarily created by people with much experience and vetted expertise. Now, many of them are — the problem is there’s so much astrology out there.
Astrology is the study of time — again, my Capricorn is showing, I know — but astrology is the study of time. And to imagine that you can be studying astrology for five years and be an expert is problematic. Being the study of time, it takes more than a couple years to master astrology. That’s not just because there’s a lot to learn. It’s because of the synthesis, the integration, and being able to apply things through multiple transits yourself.
Now don’t get me wrong. Something that I love and always loved about being an astrologer is that I never had to get a degree. I like that no governing body tells me what to wear, how to practice, where to practice, or anything else. I am completely self-created and self-made, and I am self-determined. That’s perfect for me. It has given me a life that I like living. I love it.
Unfortunately, the negative side effect of these new ways to learn astrology is that people skip the basics, like learning how to create a chart by hand, and go straight to the interesting parts of astrology — transits, prediction, even down to telling me who I’m going to be with or why I have depression. And this is all advanced astrology. So you can sit at home and think about your health, and search on Web MD, and you might find an answer. But it’s not equal to you being a doctor.
JZ: Where do you think the problem stems from?
JL: The problem — and this is a very deep issue — is that astrology has been simplified. It has been marketed to women and made silly and irrelevant for many reasons, including things related to religion, etc. Even many of the biggest fans of astrology, who use astrology to direct and guide their lives, don’t actually respect that astrology is a system and a tool that requires study, practice, and application. They jump to the fun parts.
So many astrology apps enable that. You just enter your birth info, and then it pushes you updates about who you are and what’s happening to you today. And because it pairs that interpretation with “Saturn square to Venus” (or whatever), it gives people the sense that they’re learning. They are learning, but not in any kind of a systematic or comprehensive way. What they’re learning is usually full of holes and misunderstandings.
A magazine for pros is only going to appeal to pros, and so many people want it to be more of a vending machine, which is the downside of the apps. It’s a downside of memes. It’s the downside of videos that focus on Sun Sign horoscopes. I know a lot of astrologers who don’t like Sun Sign horoscopes. I’ve been writing them for decades. They’re cotton candy, a gateway drug. They’re not nothing, but they’re not really astrology. They’re like, a little poof of astrology. Right?
JZ: Totally. I often compare astrology’s development under capitalism in the early 20th century with the way some plants will release a bitter enzyme when they’re being attacked by a ruminant. The instant the plant becomes aware of being munched, it alerts its mates and everything gets really bitter. The development of pop astrology is astrology’s way of protecting itself from the masses, from those who aren’t called to the craft. What do you make of astrology’s relationship to capitalism?
JL: Capitalism has a huge role to play in why astrology is so popular right now. When the internet really exploded, and every brand wanted clicks, clicks, clicks, what do you do? You host astrology content because people come back. Businesses suddenly needed astrologers, and a new class of astrology job was born.
So scholars of astrology, medical astrologers, mundane astrologers have to contend with this new way of being an astrologer. And that way is to be an astrology writer who focuses primarily on easy to digest and understand astrological content. That job has a symbiotic relationship with technology and astrology apps, like it or leave it. In some ways, it is a dangerous thing, and in others it is a gift to all astrologers everywhere.
JZ: It will lead those who are curious enough to the healthy roots of the plants that aren’t bitter.
JL: I’m already seeing that happen. People are hungry for real data to help them make sense of life, to make sense of the world, to feel comfort, to feel validation, to feel inspiration and motivation. They’re also authentically motivated to learn. And I think that there is a reason why that is happening. More and more people are turned off of religion, and astrology is like a personalized Trapper Keeper® for connecting to the divine. Everything is personalized to you. And that’s really appealing.
To read the rest of this interview, please check out our Cap Sol issue, available here: the-mountain-astrologer/item/5969/print-capricorn-sol-2021-2022
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