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Interview with Barbara Shafferman Astro "Talks" Date Published: by Barbara Shafferman
Bio: Barbara Shafferman

Many years ago, I confronted the world with a degree in English and dreams of writing fiction. My life took an unexpected detour while I raised my developmentally disabled daughter and acted as an advocate for the mentally handicapped, helping to improve educational and recreational programs. My writing was limited to newsletters and contentious messages to politicians.

In 1972, when most of the battles had been won, I discovered astrology. Skeptical at first, I soon discovered that I had embarked upon a lifetime study. When I felt secure enough in my knowledge, I began to interpret charts, lecture, and teach astrology in adult education classes.

Early in 1988 I discovered a significant configuration in my own astrological chart. The message seemed clear. If I were ever going to write, now was the time to start. Since then I have published over forty-five articles on astrology in American Astrology and Dell Horoscope and have enjoyed some success with my short stories in a variety of small magazines such as Potpourri (literary), Mystery Time (mystery), Grand Times (seniors) and Reader’s Break (anthology). I have published many nonfiction articles on subjects ranging from astrology to computers.

I combined these two interests--writing and astrology--in my first novel, "The President's Astrologer." The novel centers around a thirty-seven year old astrologer who, in the course of her work for the president of the United States, foils an unscrupulous senator's plot to seize the government. As I wrote "The President's Astrologer," I discovered to my delight that what I really am is a novelist.

"The President's Astrologer" was named one of three finalists for the 1999 Benjamin Franklin Award for fiction/drama by the Publishers Marketing Association.

I have just completed my second novel, "The Last Island,” the story of a kidnapping that brings together two emotionally damaged people who, against all odds, discover a deep and enduring love. "The Last Island" is set on Long Island, where I live and work. I am currently in the early stages of my third novel, a ghost story.



Clarke Fountain: The very first thing I'd like to ask: since you are the woman who wrote the book, The President's Astrologer and you have looked into that level of astrological counseling with regard to our new President-and by the time this airs he will be our new President-would you have any advice for him?

Barbara Shafferman: Well, I suppose my major advice would be to double and triple his secret service protection because of the zero year phenomena...the fact that since 1840 every President elected in a zero year has died in office, with the exception of Ronald Reagan, who was shot and was more seriously wounded than the press reported.

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CF: Yeah, whatever preceded this we certainly do not need the chaos that would result from that.

BS: No, and the Vice President who is elected in a zero year obviously becomes much more important, since there is a good likelihood that the President won't finish out his term. It's interesting that there was a very strong focus on the Vice Presidential candidates this year.


CF: It is also interesting that some people are already commenting that they think the details of managing the presidency will actually be delegated to Cheney making him the most powerful Vice President in history.

BS: Uh huh, they have even been calling him a co-President. This sounds very cold-blooded, but if anything does happen to George W., the transition won't be as painful as it might have been if the Vice President weren't running things behind the scenes.


CF: Right. You have indicated that you are not particularly interested in mundane astrology. Would you care to comment on that?

BS: Well, when I first started out in astrology I thought mundane was going to be fascinating, because here you could actually watch specific actions and everything would be on a large, grand scale. The events would involve a whole country's destiny. However, as I started to get more involved, I became disturbed by the fact that nobody was absolutely sure of any country's chart. Even a country like Israel, which was established in our lifetime, does not have a time that everyone agrees on. Since I am the kind of person who really likes to have things very specific, this bothered me a lot. Just the fact that there are at least four or five July 4th charts for the United States for which you could make a valid argument bothers me. So I left mundane astrology to the mundane astrologers, and concentrated on natal astrology because-sure, you don't know the exact time-but usually, especially if the time is on the birth certificate, you're pretty close. You can sort of rectify it by minutes if you use your head, and even if you're working with the solar chart alone, you can still get a lot of valid information.


CF: You at least get the day for certain.

BS: Right, but with mundane astrology you are so at sea about even the correct date of the natal chart, that it turns me off.


CF: Yeah. Well there are several articles on the site right now addressing those issues, and one thing we didn't mention on the site and that I think we will probably address in the future is that the whole reason for the invention of Uranian astrology is the very thing you are talking about. There is a lack of precision and it is very, very hard to do anything useful with the information they had.

BS: Right, but what bothers me about Uranian or Cosmobiology, which I did study, is the fact that there are so many factors involved that you can find reasons for everything.


CF: Yeah.

BS: I mean there is a convenient midpoint for anything.


CF: Yes, or I have a zillion of them (laughing).

BS: Yes! Personally I use the Gemini rising chart for the United States, which is the only country that I look at astrologically, and I'm really not doing mundane. I use that chart on the basis of a sort of intuitive feeling that it describes the country better than the others do. I love a tenth house Aquarius moon, for instance, showing the people ruling the country. Also Uranus conjunct the ascendant, and every eighty-four years we're involved in another war, seems so right on. Then there's that loaded second house for the wealthiest country in the world-the wealthiest country that the world has probably ever seen-with all those Cancer planets in the second house, especially Venus and Jupiter. I just like that particular chart. The fact is that when I wrote The President's Astrologer it was not as a work of mundane astrology. It was simply portraying an astrologer working with the President, and it was much more a character study of the President using natal astrology. I really did not go into much mundane business in the book.


CF: Right. Joan Quigley, the woman who is, if not a model for Addie, certainly is someone who opened up the idea that it was possible to do this. I do not recall her discussing a great deal about mundane charts, when I read her book. She was into natal transits and progressions and other things, and she was into Electional work.

BS: Exactly. I did use her somewhat as a model, not as a personality for Addie, but for the kind of work she did-timing, for example, which is not really mundane. If you have the President's correct natal chart, you can work very closely on the timing of important events. The other thing Quigley did was character analysis. According to her, she analyzed which personalities blended best with Reagan's personality-who would be most harmonious. I think it was Gorbachev whom she found so compatible with Reagan that she really encouraged their getting together, and they did have very successful meetings.


CF: Well they very nearly got rid of nuclear weapons. It was only the action of secondary figures who kept the nukes around.

BS: Right. I think that they had a great influence on each other, and very possibly that was Joan Quigley's major contribution. But again, this is the application of natal astrology, not mundane astrology.

The President's Astrologer is basically a political thriller, not a treatise on mundane astrology. It is a work of fiction, and I think it is kind of a hybrid. In addition to the astrology, there is some science involved, as well as some science fiction added to the mix.


CF: And you do not need to know any astrology to read it.

BS: That's the great feedback I have gotten from non-astrological readers. I have reviews all over the internet, and the non-astrological reviewers say that you do not have to be an astrologer to understand it, and that it has given them interesting insights into astrology. I am very pleased about that. I have gotten some good reviews from astrologers as well, and I am certainly pleased about that also.


CF: Well it is a quite amazing first novel. I am pleased to have a chance to speak to you about it. What do you think the place of astrologers might be in dealing with political figures? I know that I asked you a bunch of questions in our e-mail correspondence about confidentiality and what kinds of work astrologers can do with political figures, and we did discuss that woman- what was her name? Elizabeth...

BS: Elizabeth Tessier who worked for Francois Mitterand.


CF: Yes, and so there are at least on record in the Western countries two well-known astrologers working for two very important figures at about the same time. We also know, although it is not discussed much, that in almost all the smaller Asian countries and in India, the astrologers are an important factor in how the country is governed. If you have any thoughts on the astrologer's place in dealing with politicians I would be interested in hearing about that.

BS: Well, I wish they had more input, or at least more acknowledged input. I certainly think an astrologer has an advantage in terms of timing and in terms of character analysis over the average political adviser. An astrological analysis is a much, much more objective approach, I think, than having an adviser who brings his own needs, gains, and prejudices to the table. I think that if political figures used astrologers and took their astrological advice, they wouldn't do any worse and probably would do a whole lot better. Largely because astrology, used correctly, is really quite objective. You have a chart there, and you can't change it according to your own personal beliefs and prejudices. There it is. The planets are up there, the progressions and transits keep moving on, and you are going by that, not by things like psychological cues that you are picking up around the table. So I think it could be a really helpful thing.


CF: Yeah. I think it could be too.

BS: But as far as confidentiality is concerned, I wonder why astrologers would be held to a higher standard than other advisers who work with a President and then write a book about it? Why is an astrologer like Joan Quigley criticized for writing a book about her experiences, when a close adviser who is practically living, breathing, and eating with the President can get away with writing a book?


CF: I agree with you.

BS: We are not doctors. Sure, if someone during a session confesses to some terrible action that they've committed, or some weakness or fear they might have, you certainly wouldn't publicize that. But I cannot see why astrologers have to be so fearful of being criticized for breaching confidentiality.


CF: Right. It does seem we are held to a very high standard, almost on the level of MD's or lawyers.

BS: Yes!


CF: But MD's are even constrained by laws. For instance in California, if someone is contemplating a criminal act and tells them, they are required by law to go and inform the police on them.

BS: Right, and we are held to those standards, but we do not have the recognition that a lawyer or a doctor has.


CF: I know (laughing).

BS: So it's like a double-edged sword hanging over us.


CF: Well there is no way to win. That's one of those 'all right, when did you stop beating your wife' kinds of issues. You mentioned that you had started out investigating astrology as a skeptic. I might mention that Steven Hawkins just went on record from a very ignorant point of view I might add, as debunking astrology in Slate magazine.

BS: Oh really?


CF: But how did you start out as a skeptic and then become an astrologer?

BS: Well because I have a very practical chart with an awful lot of earth-a lot of Virgo and a Capricorn Ascendant-it's a real show-me or I'm not going to believe it chart. It's a very reality-oriented chart. So astrology seemed like a lot of nonsense to me, but then I only knew about Sun sign astrology. In 1972 I had some unexpected free time, and I took an extension course in astrology that was given at one of our local colleges. The idea intrigued me, even though I was very skeptical. Well, it opened a whole new world to me. I had no idea that everything was that specific, that you actually erected a chart that was based on the positions of the planets at the moment of birth. This really intrigued me. And my chart happens to be one you could use as a teaching tool-it's such a classic chart to show the action of astrology. When I learned astrology and looked at my chart, I was not a skeptic any more, especially when I looked back and saw the timing of certain things in my life.


CF: Ah, interesting.

BS: Yes, I'm fortunate in a way that I have a chart that is so exact in terms of astrological principles, but this was how I became converted. As you know the converts are more dedicated than the born believers.


CF: Right, that seems true.

BS: Yes.


CF: To shift gears for a second, Addie seems to be well received by the reading public. Do you expect her to have some more adventures?

BS: Well, that would depend on how well received she is by the buying public. Sure if there is any demand for it I would hope that she would be advising some other important figure, perhaps in business or in the armed services-wherever she's needed. My book is set in the year 2006, which now does not seem as far away as it was when I started writing it. But a future book about Addie would probably be set in the year 2010 or 2012, and I have no idea right now what type of leaders would be around then. If the demand came up for any of Addie's future services, I am sure I could conjure up someone very interesting.


CF: You mentioned in the questions discussed by e-mail that you thought astrology ought to be better publicized, that people should be informed that it is a precise and complex business. How do you suppose that could be done?

BS: Well now this is something very close to my heart. I think that the biggest challenge astrology faces in terms of its acceptance is to get the general public to understand its true nature. As I said, this is how I became interested in astrology. I had a total misconception of the nature of astrology from the Sun sign horoscopes in the newspapers. I happen to have three planets in Virgo, so when I read the descriptions of Virgo it was very much like me, which got me interested, but I had no idea of the depth of it, or just how darned intelligent astrologers are. I had visions of some sort of crystal ball readers, and the fact that astrology is nothing like that is something the public really has to know. I think the people who are trying to get astrology verified and accepted through research, perhaps are going in the wrong direction, because I do not think it can ever really be quantified that way.


CF: Well it's the study of meanings.

BS: Exactly, and it is so intuitive and there are different levels of ability, and I just don't think a computerized approach can work. I mean all the mathematical chart work is fine to do by computers, but I just don't think the interpretation can be quantified in terms of computer research.


CF: Right.

BS: So I think the only way is to get the public to understand what astrology really is-that it is a big detailed system of knowledge that is based on specific positions of the planets, that there is an objective standard and then the interpretation goes into play, and one of the things I had hoped to do by the book was to show the public what an astrologer is really like, that an astrologer is a perfectly normal person with fears and relationship problems, insecurities and also strengths and not some kind of kooky figure..


CF: ...wearing extra-large silk handkerchiefs over their heads like Hollywood gypsies.

BS: Right, and an all-knowing kind of person who is telling everybody the right way to behave. I want the reader to understand that an astrologer is really a pretty normal person. I have gotten a lot of reader reaction from non-astrologers who have read the book. They say that they found Addie such an interesting character, and that they had no idea what astrology was really like, and that they are going to learn more about the subject. This was one of the things I had really hoped to achieve, and the wider the distribution of The President's Astrologer among non-astrologers, the more this should happen.

I have tried to do my part to educate the public. I have been in astrology since 1972 and practicing it since 1975, and I have taught adult education courses in astrology in several school districts on Long Island where I live. I think that really helped spread the word a little. I also lecture at many libraries-we have about forty or fifty libraries in Nassau County alone-and I also lecture at some local high schools.


CF: Oh, okay.

BS: I try to spread the word in a very realistic, practical way about astrology and what it is really like. As I said, I think that is the most important issue facing astrology today in terms of gaining acceptance.


CF: Yours is about the only fiction work that I know of, recently published at least, that has a realistic depiction of an astrologer at work.

BS: There is a very good mystery writer, Martha C. Lawrence, who uses titles with astrological signs. The Cold Heart of Capricorn, Aquarius Descending and Pisces Rising come to mind. Her detective, though, is a psychic with a smattering of astrology, so she is using astrological titles, but gives no real depiction of how astrology is used.


CF: Okay.

BS: She's a good writer, but her detective is a psychic, not an astrologer.


CF: Yeah, which gives a misleading impression already.

BS: Exactly. Now I don't have a psychic bone in my body, so although some people look at my chart and say, "Oh my, you're so psychic." it just is not so. I approach astrology strictly as a realistic system of knowledge, from which I can deduce certain facts. That's how I approach it, and as you can see, there is absolutely not one word of psychic ability in The President's Astrologer.


CF: Right. By the way, did you ever read Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land?

BS: I started it once a long, long time ago, but I never did finish it. Even though there is an element of science fiction in The President's Astrologer, I admit I have not read too much science fiction.


CF: Well that is the only other instance that I know of, of where an astrologer is being presented in even a slightly realistic light, although the particular astrologer in that book, who is a counselor to the head of the UN, is an intuitive, and she uses the chart as more or less of an evocative ink blot (laughing).

BS: Well yeah, that's what I wanted to get away from. Unfortunately, that is the conception that the general public has: yet there are an awful lot of reality-oriented astrologers. There are an awful lot of psychic astrologers too, and I am not faulting them. I think both approaches have value, but this is not my orientation at all.


CF: You mentioned you didn't have a hero-worshipping attitude, but you did mention a few people who are influences of yours. I would like you to discuss that for a little bit, and then talk about what techniques or study you are doing now that is interesting and exciting to you.

BS: Well, as I said I am not exactly a hero worshiper, but one of the best astrological books that I ever read was Grant Lewi's Astrology for the Millions. That book gave me a concept of Saturn that was so fascinating, especially since Saturn is so important in my particular chart. I cannot exactly say I have an affinity for Saturn-I would just as soon see it wiped out of the solar system entirely-but it was fascinating because I can almost time my life by the transits of Saturn. As I said, my chart is a classic example of astrology. So, Grant Lewi was an astrologer who I admired tremendously. And, of course, so was Robert Hand. We all, I think, admire Robert Hand because he has such insights, and his book on transits is so good. As far as I am concerned, you could throw out every other book on that subject and just use his transit book for reference. I own all his books-Horoscope Symbols, Essays on Astrology -they are all just full of wonderful ideas. Then I like Stephen Arroyo very much because he gave me a feeling for the elements and qualities, and for the depth of an astrological chart. He helped me a lot in my astrological interpretation. So those are the ones that come to mind right now, and of course there are loads of others.


CF: Sure, sure. Is there any current study that has got you going?

BS: Well, I still go with my natal astrology, and I do some horary work as well -- but just for friends and family. Horary fascinates me, because it is so precise, and because it works so well when it's done correctly. Also, one area I would like to investigate if I ever get the time is Fixed Stars. I think there's a lot there that is very valid, and that can add an extra dimension to interpretation. But I don't have much time for that, because I'm doing a lot of fiction writing these days.


CF: Oh good!

BS: So that I don't have as much time for astrological study as I did in the past, though I am still keeping active. I am still lecturing to the general public at local libraries. I have one coming up on political astrology, and this gives me a chance to acquaint them with some astrological Americana. I have written a lot of articles for American Astrology and Dell Horoscope in the past, but lately I haven't been able to write articles, because I have been so busy with my fiction. I hope to squeeze in some time for this as well.


CF: All right. Well, do you have anything you can tell us about that we can look forward to seeing?

BS: Well I have a novel completed, which my agent has right now, but it does not have anything to do with astrology. It has to do with the relationship between a kidnapper and the person he kidnapped. I actually got interested in that because of a kidnapping episode in my book, The President's Astrologer.


CF: Yeah.

BS: And I am working on a ghost story right now, which I am very excited about because it is going very well, and I am about halfway through it. So, here I am, talking about not being psychic, and I'm writing a ghost story. But this is probably the most realistic ghost story you will ever read.


CF: Oh great, I'll look forward to seeing it one of these days.

BS: I sure hope you'll be seeing it.


CF: How did you make the transition from astrologer to writer?

BS: I had definite astrological indications that prompted me to start writing. I even use this in lectures to astrologers, because it is so graphic. As I said, my chart is almost classic for instructional purposes. Well, all my life, I dreamed of being a writer, but somehow never got around to it. In 1988, I noticed a progressed configuration in my chart. Mercury dominates my chart. It is the final dispositor of the chart, the focal planet of a T-square, and also part of a grand trine. And I have always been involved in some form of communication. At any rate, in 1988, progressed Mercury, which had turned retrograde a couple of years earlier, was conjunct progressed Sun right on my natal Midheaven. And the conjunction sextiled my natal Sun. Also, progressed Jupiter had moved to an exact trine of my Ascendant, and progressed Mars opposed the Ascendant. To me all that activity was a clear indication that if I was ever going to start writing and using that Mercury, this was the time to do it.


CF: It all lined up.

BS: So it was a very, very significant time, and to me it indicated success in writing, so I wrote an article for Dell Horoscope, an astrology article on my current writing hero, who happened to be Truman Capote. It was accepted immediately, and I started writing articles for the astrology magazines; I have had about forty-five published. I also had some short stories published during the next few years. To me, this is a clear indication of astrological timing. I believe that if I had started writing earlier or later, I would not have been as effective. I just think that was the time start writing for the most success.


CF: I see. Well it is significant that they accepted your article right away.

BS: Yes, I think I was at a point then where I could really communicate effectively, with that progressed Mercury conjunct progressed Sun conjunct the Midheaven. And I think if you use the timing correctly, you won't lose the advantage once the period is over. I have really enjoyed a lot of writing success since then. This novel, The President's Astrologer, is my first, and the odds are fantastic against getting a first novel published. So I think I just took the proper advantage of that moment in time, which is what an astrologer like Addie, advising a head of state, might be able to do for that person.


CF: Well you are unusual in that you were able to take your own chart as an astrologer and act on it effectively (laughing).

BS: Yes, well you know your own chart. I mean you carry your chart around in your head, if you are any kind of astrologer. Since I think I am a reasonably objective person, I can really look at it objectively and not from a wishful thinking standpoint.


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Fountain, ClarkeInterview With Trish MacGregor - Part I

Fountain, ClarkeInterview With Trish MacGregor - Part II

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