“When once you grasp that astrology is in the earth and of the earth and covers the entire earth and everything in it, when you take an abstract astrology out of the sky and put it on the earth and in the ground and make it tangible and real, you will be astounded at the sheer scope and scale and power of it. We have hardly uncovered a tenth of it. As vast and complex as astrology is, it amazes me we have learned as much as we have. Astrology is reality itself.” — David Roell, (1952-2014)
“I’m picturing carloads of naked dancing girls, every Monday around 10 a.m.. My reward for getting the newsletter out. My mind, as you can see, races sideways.” David emailed this to me one morning, shortly after meeting his Monday morning deadline.
And I responded: “Yep — the Roell mind running sideways, zig-zag, up, down, and occasionally into the velocity of your leg that’s about to kick a hornet’s nest.”
But forget the naked dancing girls and consider the quote that opens this tribute for my Mercurial-minded friend and fellow astrologer David Roell who died — too young, at 62 — a year ago on July 27 — at his home in Maryland.
I want to highlight his achievements up front, to pique your interest and the desire to explore more of David’s kaleidoscopic command of astrology. George Harrison once remarked: “The Beatles saved the world from boredom.” And David did exactly the same for astrology.
Roell’s earth-based theory of the zodiac, of which he refers in the opening epigram, is the cornerstone of his astrological legacy. His grand idea is carefully articulated in the forward to his reprint of George McCormack’s classic Long Range Weather Forecasting. It’s also available online, in his article The Right Theory of Astrology, featured in his newsletter — the same newsletter that was emailed weekly, to thousands of eager subscribers.
The Earth’s Aura
As students of astrology we’re each taught that the Tropical zodiac is constructed of mathematical divisions of the ecliptic, and thus not really ‘real’. David’s assertion returned the zodiac to terra firma — from which all of the zodiac’s descriptive elements — air, fire, water, and earth are derived — a reattribution that solves many of astrology’s niggling mysteries.
“The theory that emerges is that planets interact with each other,” David wrote, “and that the net result of such interaction upon the Earth are the twelve signs of the zodiac, which do not fall from the sky, but radiate from the Earth itself. The signs of the zodiac represent the vibrations of the Earth.”
Like many of David’s theories, some outlandish or hyper-seminal, the earth-based zodiac impugned tradition. I pointed out once that Alan Leo and Dane Rudyhar proposed a similar concept: Both astrologers saw the zodiac as something akin to the Earth’s aura, in which the Earth floated, like a gyroscope. David was intrigued:
“Yes, that comes close,” he said, “but it’s slightly off and lacking.”
His theory, as you’ll read, was literal. He surmised that all planetary bodies contained hexahedrite at their center, a six-sided crystalline form of iron, which radiated the zodiacal field outwards. He highlights this crystal component in detail in one of his final newsletters.
Child of Mercury
With his chart ruler, Mercury, in the 9th House (conjunct the Sun and sextile Jupiter), David was, as classic markers go, an astrologer’s astrologer. (It is the planet Mercury — not Uranus — that is associated with astrologers). Publishing and broadcasting were David’s mission. And so he wrote astrology books, revived astrology books, published astrology books and touted astrology books. He was also a wily gadfly (appropriate his Gemini ascendant) with the precocious, uncensored candor of a child.
When I once, in jest, wrote to him that Oprah Winfrey had contacted me after reading our interview (published here, a few years back) he took my ‘news’ to heart and mentioned “her interest” to his newsletter audience. Later, post my clarification, he exploded, explaining that he once again needed to berate himself for taking people at their word.
I offered my Venus in Gemini as evidence of my writing style. To which he redressed me again; and the fallout stuck. David explained how too much (or poorly delivered) humor interrupted the receptivity of the reader and made the writer appear either vague or insecure. Instinctively I knew he was correct and adjusted my writing style from that day forward.
The Roell Way
As a writer, David had a clear, congenial voice; but it was never empty of insights that could excite curiosity — or animus, whenever he’d breach politically correct protocol. Often with David, within a single article (or conversation), I’d move from admiration to anger — in a heartbeat. He explained to me once the rationale for his particular style:
“I am stream-of-consciousness, have been since the age of 16 or so. I do not know any other way to be, which means I have no memory unless contextual. I regret that, failing to find peers, I have become more interested in me than I am in anyone or anything, which means the people who appear in my life are by default more interested in me than I am in them.”
He applied this same skill to reading horoscopes:
“Always, always, go with your hunches,” he advised. “If you stop to think about it, your brain will get in the way and kill it. Because that’s what brains do. Kill things.”
“Imagine if your hunch was right. What would that mean? In other words, what’s the next hunch? And the one after that? Spin out a story, make up a fantasy, see where it goes. And when you’ve done that, then stand back and take a look at the chart as a whole. Does it make sense? Does it tell you new and surprising things? Could it (gasp!) be right?”
His was the speed reading school of chart interpretation:
“Try to delineate a chart in five minutes. In sixty seconds. Speed will make your mind work. You will be right more often than you think, but even if you’re not, you can always, as they say, sin in haste and repent at leisure”
David’s manner of reading a horoscope was reckless and completely opposite my present approach to astrology. But still, I eagerly awaited his Monday morning newsletters. I delighted in David’s manner of remaking a chart to fit what he considered the truth — versus the consensus perception of a public figure.
An example: When whistleblower Edward Snowden‘s birth time (which produced a Gemini ascendant) had been officially confirmed, David disregarded the Double-A data — declared it doctored — and demonstrated, step-by-step, why a Cancer ascendant was the correct fit for Snowden.
Because David read charts in a traditional manner, similar to my teacher Ivy Goldstein-Jacobson, it must have been nostalgic reverie that his writing inspired in me. His application of horoscopic rules — very much horary-based — was like tracking the twists and turns of a mystery narrative. And Ivy delineated natal charts in a similar manner.
Roell’s method embodied the same joy I’d felt as a teenager, when I first discovered astrology in the 70s, complete with the belief that absolute facts and secret insights could be directly culled from a horoscope; a condition I no longer consider possible, nor teach from — but still, how fun it was to believe and dream like that back in the day.
Meeting The Man
I first encountered David’s writing, back in 2002, after I’d stumbled into his online bookstore one evening and then went missing for hours; hopping between his strange articles and exacting book reviews — my eyes popping, brain smoking.
Dave’s book critiques were piquant — often blunt and eviscerating — and he never shellacked bull to make a sale. I didn’t always concur, but Dave’s disregard for astro-protocol was initially refreshing. I surmised how the astrological world could benefit from such a tough love approach. Too much New Age babble occupies the mainstream while worthy tomes are shoved into the backwaters of academia.
I fired off a fan letter to Dave that same evening and he responded almost instantly, in that eerie way that makes you wonder if Aquarian people ever sleep (it must have been 3 a.m. in Maryland).
A wild rapids discussion followed. From Mozart’s suspicious death, to planetary nodes, to his tireless pursuit to suss out the origins of astrologer Liz Greene‘s first PhD. Several professional astrologers were appalled by the audacity of his dogged inquiry, the conclusion of which brought to light the bogus nature of a now-defunct Los Angeles diploma mill.
As another astrologer shared with me recently: “In the small world of high stature professional astrologers, this was a courageous, transgressive article to write about the doyenne of modern psychological astrology.”
Somehow, in our exchange that summer evening, David and I dovetailed from a deconstruction of Venus in Taurus into Dave’s deft comparison of the weary faces of overworked female opera singers to those of beleaguered California porn vixens. At first I couldn’t follow his logic, but eventually I grasped his point regarding the occupational hazards of a throat-based craft. And with this later insight I knew I’d met a kindred spirit.
Pulling the Words — and Memories — Together
In writing this tribute, on the anniversary of David’s death, I’ve relied on memory and my unruly collection of emails. My 12-year relationship with Roell was completely epistolary, except for random phone calls that sometimes ruptured into hang-ups or yelling matches (leading to hang-ups). The later, as unsavory as that reads, were akin to siblings bickering — although once, frustrated, I threw a shoe at my monitor.
After the advent of the Internet, Dave developed a comfortable relationship with the public from within the bubble that online personas allowed. Encased, he could do his own thing, his own way, and at his own Aquarian pace. But working face-to-face with potential clients? No. God, no! He once told me that he’d attempted doing in-person readings to increase his cash flow, but the process “set his teeth on edge” and disrupted his focus.
His focus being the operation of his brick and mortar — and then eventually online — bookstore, The Astrology Center of America. Within a field — astrology’s — that is often void of classroom instruction and entirely book-dependent, David was a kingpin. Astro America, as it came to be called, was the Library of Alexandria for all things astrological.
Pop books, rare books, out-of-print books, academic dissertations, calendars, ephemerides were all well-stocked and for sale. He’d a deft command of the trade and saw very early in the game, as the Internet eroded the sales of smaller metaphysical bookstores, that Print On Demand was the future. And Roell continued, until the end, to challenge — but also feel the blowback — from Amazon, the behemoth death-star.
With POD he published stellar reprints of the classics, some long out of print. His two-volume publication of William Lilly‘s Christian Astrology was lovingly compiled and — with modern typefaces and new renderings of its archaic charts — made actually readable.
Many astrologers consider the volumes by Lilly to be Dave’s finest contribution. And, typical of David, he attributed the pounding ozone headache he acquired (from mass-photocopying the pages from the facsimile) to a curse that Lilly allegedly placed on the books, should they ever be duplicated.
Fragments and Filaments
Because I’d met David towards the closing phase of his life, I wasn’t privy to all of his biographical details. But he offered milestones and bread crumbs you could compile from his newsletters:
He was born in Kansas into a large family of eight siblings. He edited his high school yearbook. Was mystified by his father, whose 12th House Sun made the man a living riddle.
Roell created several incarnations of his bookstore, pre the dawn of the Internet: New York, California, New Mexico and then finally in Maryland — photos of which are still cataloged on his website.
But prior to his bookstores, it was in New York, in the fall of 1983, that he discovered astrology. He wrote:
“After having studied various metaphysical subjects and after having traveled in the world for a bit, one day I gave in to the inevitable and decided to have a look at astrology. I went to Weiser — at that time on Broadway in lower Manhattan — and asked the clerk for a book to start with.” The book was Alan Oken’s Complete Astrology. He returned to his tiny apartment in mid-town and read it, cover to cover.
Although he never referenced specific teachers, I’d always considered David’s Jupiter in Aries (opposing Saturn in Libra) the mark of his autodidact nature. Taking instruction from an in-the-flesh expert would have, most likely, gone terribly awry — for both souls. And so books — and surrounding himself with thousands of them, became his ‘instruction by emersion’. And this speaks to both his command of astrology’s principles and his mastery of the written word.
Committed writers understand that both luck (innate talent) and reading — always reading more and more books — are required to mitigate the solitude that’s required to create good work. As breezy as David’s writing reads, he once mentioned that he went through dozens of drafts before releasing anything to the public. Confirming that what often looks effortless from a writer isn’t.
Heroes and History
David had little interest in modern, ‘psychological’ astrology and practiced his own hybrid mix of Medieval, Morin and Roell. His eye was focused, always, on the classics and he was excited and watchful of Project Hindsight‘s resurrection of Greek and Latin astrological texts.
Though he once confessed: “I wish the Hellenists would read charts, rather than discuss theory. It would not surprise me if the quest for really ancient Hellenistic astrology accidentally uncovered the fact that the late medieval astrologers were really what we wanted all along.”
Roell’s hero was Jean Baptiste Morin, considered the greatest of all French astrologers. (“Master the Morin method,” Dave told me, “and you will master astrology.”) Morin was Royal Professor of Mathematics at the College de France from 1630 to his death in 1656. And was court astrologer to Louis XIII.
Of Morin’s massive, 30-year opus, Astrologia Gallica, David kept a watchful eye; offering regular updates as James Holden, the research director of the American Federation of Astrologers, worked his way through translating all of Gallica‘s volumes.
Dave touted Morin’s method with the highest praise because the Frenchman adapted horary principles to natal charts — meaning he used rulerships to fully integrate houses with signs and aspects. This, as you read through David’s newsletters and published essays, was an adjunct method that Dave applied for delineations. Though, occasionally, with an added overlay of Roellian fudging.
An example: If Jupiter occupied the 8th House of a chart and Sagittarius ruled the 9th, David would announce that Jupiter actually preferred the 9th and so read the chart accordingly, affording the planet its comfort zone.
The Foot-in-Mouth Curmudgeon
Shortly after David died, a ceremonial-minded astrologer emailed me: “Why don’t you write up a remembrance of David for the astrologer’s memorial page. You were one of the few people who could tolerate him.”
Her harsh rationale didn’t waylay me. I was familiar with Dave’s abrasive affront to social decorum — and, worse, his shocking, unapologetic bigotry. Too, I was aware of David’s many fans and champions — how charmed and well-loved he was.
I surmised, from his newsletters and our correspondence, that his quirky socio-cosmology was grounded in a mixture of early 20th-century ‘esoteric traditions’ — like the post-Theosophical channelings of Alice Bailey, a body-pod receptor for a Tibetan Master of Wisdom known as Djwal Khul.
Bailey’s (or Khul’s) teachings are fascinating, in a Wachowski Brothers sorta way. With the advent of the Internet, and how easily fanaticism is exposed, Bailey’s estate has taken to redacting her work of its bizarre antisemitism and homophobic commentaries: Jews were admonished as evolutionary stragglers, too proud to join the Brotherhood of Man, while queers were just, well, queer — human petri dishes of various perversions and diseases (I’m not making this up).
Dave’s embarrassing bigotry would force me, several times through the course of our friendship, to re-think our relationship. Could I overstep my frustration and still maintain my appreciation for his many gifts and talents? Being an adult, aware of the complexity of being human — yes, I could. And doubly so, being an astrologer, privy to David’s birth chart.
Homosexuality perplexed him — not homosexual individuals per se, but ‘the gays’ — his term for the organized advocates for same-sex marriage. He considered them to be, “…under-appreciated bullies.” Procreation, he explained, was critical during the astrological Age we are living through (he decided that the Aquarian Age commenced in 1913) which, being Aquarian meant the Sun was debilitated and thus all things heterosexually male might enervate.
He equated the quick ascent of gays rights as a sign that a decline of solar force was indeed underway. Dave and I argued this notion at length in our interview two years ago. Despite his quirky idiosyncrasies, I recommend that anyone interested in the concept of Ages dive into his lengthy writing on the subject. His theories are fascinating.
Racial themes became another awkward topic for Roell, and his final rupture within the astrological community occurred in late 2013, when he prepared a study of prominent black female athletes, a newsletter article that went awry when he attempted to discern, from their horoscopes, if some of the women had been reincarnated “house” or “field” slaves.
Astrologer Samuel F. Reynolds tore into this with all the vigor of a seasoned astrologer that holds two degrees in black studies. He debated with David to no avail — a common outcome when you’re walking through the twilight of someone’s blind spot.
I corresponded with Samuel about this recently, and he graciously concluded: “Dave’s idea on slavery and reincarnation was definitely its own world of weird and bigotry. However, I have to recognize that he also likely had the kind of mind that was determined to explore his own world of weird rather than go along with the crowd. That actually is something we need a little more in astrology. I’m curious to hear more about Dave’s unique turns of mind. I’m glad you’re doing this, without vilifying or lionizing him.”
Because I’m often confounded by the tedious social machinations within the contemporary astrological world, I sympathized with David’s attitudes and peculiarities about cliques and clubs — he couldn’t abide them. He’d been excluded from conferences because the organizers “didn’t want the party line disturbed.” A badge of honor, I once told him.
But he’d also exerted considerable effort to crack the budgets that exposed the paltry compensation paid to the featured speakers. In other words, the conference’s star attractions were often underpaid — in the name of free rooms, food, and schmoozing rights. David loathed manipulation like that.
“I really want to hear the reason why my books — the fifty I publish — are excluded from the shows and conventions,” he wrote. “And I’m increasingly angry and becoming militant, which will do no one any good.” He explained to me in detail once — and accurately I believe — that the complex set of oppositions in his chart lent him the fallout effects of a walking, talking polarity field.
Jung and Dumb
It didn’t help that David considered contemporary astrology to be in a place of stasis or decline. He often complained that from the mid-60s forward, astrology had been taken over by “psycho-babblers.” I goaded him one afternoon to say more and he emailed back:
“Astropsychology is easy, easy, easy and does not require great study. It is agreeable to wholesale invention and has attracted mediocre minds. I have been trying to persuade people to set charts according to the instructions in Vettius Valens but instead I hear there are mysterious “tables” (aka printed ephemerides) which means things back then were just the same as things now. Which is a fantasy. Which means the Greeks will be warped to fit Dane Rudhyar and Liz Greene.”
He continued with his rant:
“This is aside from my observation that Greek astrology was an incomplete attempt to recover an earlier lost science and is therefore not to be taken as a final source for anything. Astrological development ended c.1700 with Lilly and his group, and Morin. Astrology got restarted c.1970 with the neo-Morin group in Dallas. It increasingly looks as if Hindsight was a lever that pried things loose, enabling me and the Morin people to come out and play, but as we are threatening to the largely untrained and unschooled establishment, we are carefully controlled or, in my case, shut out entirely.”
This was the David I enjoyed prodding for his insights — the Roell on a roll. With a formidable trine between Mars in Scorpio and Uranus in Cancer, he’d an uncanny prescience for shooting his arrows straight into the heart of any muddle. Though one day he complained to me, feeling sluggish and out of sorts after his heart began to falter: “I had a trine in water between Mars and Uranus once, but it seems to have dried up.”
Astrology and the Age of Information
When I asked once why astrology was not regaining traction amidst the acceleration of all things cyber, he shot back:
“Oh, you’ve asked the wrong question! The real question is why we cannot break out of this very narrow, very small, niche market. I like to think we’re like FM radio and rock music, back in the early 1950’s. We’re waiting for a talent, like Elvis and the Beatles, to break us out of this ghetto. Serious astrology titles presently sell 200-400 copies a year. In a country of 300 million, we ought to be moving ten to 50 times that.”
But the Kindle, I suggested, wouldn’t that make dissemination quicker, faster — for the ‘give it to me now’ generation?
His Mars rumbled:
“The worst! With the pervasive screen environment, our memory is dissipating. Hard drives only last five years; web pages are forever changing in the way of the Ministry of Truth, and there’s no machine left that reads 15-year old floppy disks. Digital data is vulnerable. Yet entire libraries of books and other physical artifacts of information and culture are being lost due to budget cuts, or even the shifting assumption that everything can be found online, and can always be in the digital realm. How is this untrue? For the first time in history, we have the technological means to save great swathes of data about our past, yet it seems to be going up in smoke already. Will we suffer from collective amnesia in the age of decline?”
The Wane and the Essential
And here, as your present-time chronicler, is where my momentum — the joy I’ve had in compiling these reveries and ruptures — begins to decline, colliding with today, and how — a year after this death — I still miss David and feel his absence.
With Amazon’s continued hegemony and medical bills threatening the security of his family environment, David declared his willingness, in one of his final newsletters, to take on that role of astrology’s Elvis (or a John, Paul, George or Ringo). He wrote to his readers and potential patrons or donors:
“In the last three years a purpose in life has finally become clear. Arriving so very late I am indifferent to it but will do my duty to the best of my ability. Just as Goethe transformed western literature, just as Michael Jackson transformed popular music, just as with them, I have the full moon and its raw power (I have Goethe’s chart on steroids). My Leo-Aquarius polarity is at the heart of my existence. I can only work if there is someone who wants it. If there is no audience, there is no reason to even begin. The artist does not create for himself alone. Does this sound magisterial? I have the means to transform astrology, from a collection of puzzling fragments, to the single most powerful science ever seen. One of unimaginable brilliance.”
The audacity of the proposal was pure Roell, but given that he’d forecasted his death for the year 2016, he was publicly acknowledging (and coming to terms with) what each of us secretly harbors within our mortal trajectories: Our imagined potential in sharp distinction to the life we’re actually living — or in David’s case: Losing.
The vulnerability and rawness of his published sentiment, and his willingness to share it, touched my heart. And reminded me again why I admired and valued David — despite all of his eccentric peculiarities.
Anniversaries can amplify objectivity. This has been true for me in writing this tribute to David. Time’s passage fosters a mysterious kind of intimacy — and as the memories, projections and complexities that defined a relationship fall away, we’re left with a specific impression of the departed’s essential nature.
This phenomenon relates to how essence, through presence, can be felt, distinctly, viscerally — as a condition that is beyond time and space. Whenever anyone close to me has died I once again ponder the words of the Indian sage Ramana Maharshi. On his deathbed, he asked of his grieving devotees, “You say I am going away, but where can I go?”
David’s essence is, like each of ours, ineffable. Beyond words. But his essence is indubitably interspersed within the force that drives astrology’s Logos. Love of person or subject, as David loved and honored astrology, makes for soul mates. And it is in this spirit that David’s gifts and contributions — his legacy — should be acknowledged.
Astrology and the Artist
The astrologer Liz Greene (whom I admire greatly — sorry Dave) wrote:
“Astrology is an art, rather than a science or a system of religious beliefs. But what, then, is art? The artist mediates between different dimensions of life. The images, sounds, words and forms which the artist utilises are languages which can communicate the meaningful patterns of levels of reality which would otherwise be incomprehensible or incommunicable to the rational mind. When we are affected by art, it is because the work speaks to us on many levels: intellectual, intuitive, emotional, visceral.”
Within this framework, David was an artist. History reminds us that artists are often outsiders and truth tellers. Art, to be true art — as it weaves the various levels together that Greene details above — requires audacity.
Artists must risk and disrupt the status quo, otherwise what of originality is displayed? Easy art is art that we accept unchallenged, and it is quickly forgotten. Real art shocks and becomes memorable. Not for having shocked, but for — ultimately — delighting the senses.
It’s on this note that it behooves astrologers to explore David’s many offerings to the art. As someone who braved the storms to remain connected to David, I’d many rewards in doing so. You will too. My friend and colleague Jessica Murray once said to me about David: “The world needs more wild grizzled prophets to stir up the blandness in contemporary astrology.”
David’s humor delighted me endlessly. Whenever we’d a rupture, it was his humor that was a balm, a smoothing-over that alerted me that he was done chewing on our disagreement (read: he was bored) and he’d moved on. And in the end, to compile this tribute, it was his impishness that beamed out from my laptop the other day when I started trawling my decade-long collection of emails from David.
His very last note to me read:
“For four entire days this past fall I happily thought of a next life in the Church, where I would bring back priest/nun sexual relations. What do you think you will do in your next life? Never to early to plan!”
Author Debbi Kempton-Smith Remembers David Roell
The shock of Dave Roell’s passing is very hard, an irreplaceable loss. He left a grieving wife and died without seeing his little girl grow up.
Mr. Roell was charismatic, what you’d call a force of nature, a generous, restless, kind, handsome, humourous man, a loyal friend with a sparkling wit and an off-scale I.Q., which made talking with him precarious and endlessly enlightening. His impact on astrology was massive, and will continue to grow.
Dave’s generosity was legendary. He donated books. He connected people. He promoted people. He helped people. He published poor authors and gave them the publishing. He published books no one else would publish, books that needed to be in print. He gave advice freely to all who asked for it, and to some who didn’t.
How to even begin to form an appreciation for all the good Dave Roell has done for astrology, for his friends, colleagues, thousands of strangers, readers, for publishing, and even his foes? His ground-breaking investigations of fake diploma mill degrees and shady shenanigans – a sad fact in our field – has had the happy and unexpected effect of forcing astrologers to be transparent: get a real degree or stop claiming one.
Because of Dave Roell, astrologers understand we must do the hard intellectual slog of getting accredited diplomas, if we’re claiming them, if astrology is to play in the real world. Thanks to Dave, we must up our game.
He adored his wife Elizabeth and his beloved only dancing daughter, Veracity, named for his fierce and fiery love of truth. Beethoven was his muse. I was deeply honoured and bloody lucky to know him, to be his friend. I miss him madly. And I’ll reckon, if he could, he’s telling us right now he misses us more.
(*) I am not publishing David’s birth chart out of respect of his request from our interview in 2013, although a copy of it is available in one of his later newsletters.
• The Astro America website is no longer taking orders, but all of the classics David reprinted, as well as his superb collection of personal essays, are available from Amazon.
• Debbi Kempton-Smith‘s, Secrets From a Stargazer’s Notebook — the most popular astrology book in the world (and with good reason) is also available from Amazon.
• The opening graphic for this tribute incorporates David’s favorite photograph that, over time, became iconic. The design I crafted may not be used or reproduced without my permission, it is © 2015 Frederick Woodruff.