Ask astrologer Nick Dagan Best what school of astrology he practices and he will answer: “Astrology.”
His pointed, slightly sardonic response is echoed in his list of must-read books for beginning astrologers. When I requested recommendations for our interview, he offered, right at the number 1 spot: “The ephemeris — any version.” Because, as he explained: “It is the combined biography of billions of souls.”
And Nick oughta know. He has a reputation within the astro community for being a ‘human ephemeris’. Though, as he told me when we met for some libations and philosophizing recently, “I still don’t have Mercury and the Moon entirely down pat yet.” (“Jesus, I’m still trying to recall what sign Mars is transiting right now,” I thought to myself.)
Name an event from history and Best will tell you where Saturn and Jupiter were positioned and if Venus or Mars were retrograde or not on that date. This happened throughout the evening as we discussed the birth charts and defining moments (and the retrogrades that accompanied them) of Miles Davis, Alfred Hitchcock and J. Edgar Hoover. Dotted throughout with tidbits about the history of the United States and the planet Uranus (the subject of his new book) and the revelation that Joni Mitchell always referred to her favorite white Mercedes as her “baby” and, of course, where the planets were the night her “baby” was stolen.
As our conversation continued — always with ready examples on hand from his nearby laptop — I’d a sense that I was sitting within a holographic force field of astrology’s awe-inspiring chronologic annals. Complimenting Best’s unique grasp of Big Time is his database of over 30,000 event horoscopes — all of which cross-reference historical moments and history makers.
I asked Best how his acute sense of time informs his counseling skills. He explained that he always considers the client’s entire lifespan when studying his or her horoscope. Not that he trades in death predictions, but foremost in his mind is that we’re only on earth for a limited duration of time, and that means we’re each unpacking our lives within a particular arc. A span that informs his analysis of short- and long-term transits and progressions (which he always considers together), regardless a client’s focus on current quandaries.
Best published his first book last year, a graphic novel title URANU.S.A.:Astrology Looks at the First Planet and Nation of the New World. I attempted several times during the evening, like a three-year-old, to properly pronounce the title but then gave up and just referred to it “as your book about Uranus and the history of the United States.”
UranU.S.A.’s presentation, from its comic book-like front and back covers, to what’s contained within, is a literal representation of Best’s own horoscope. A Leo with lots of Leo and Virgo. Translated: A one-of-a-kind book that’s filled with fascinating data, presented in a whimsical way that makes learning fun.
If you’ve an academic’s approach to understanding how astrology and history intertwine (especially with a wildcard planet like Uranus as the central character), this is your book. My only complaint? My ancient eyes balk at white type printed on black backgrounds — true, it gives a dramatic impact to the colorful presentation of data, but my Jupiter in Virgo has to have something to bitch about.
Mary Plumb‘s recent review in The Mountain Astrologer describes the book’s allure well:
“The author is a creative astrologer. He is keen on investigating repeating cycles, and he notices overlapping patterns and planetary events that are ‘co-present’ with each other.” She notes that the book is, “well laid-out — there is a two-page spread for each event, with the historical record on the left side and the horoscope and astrological data on the right. This is a quite effective way to transmit information.”
And I will echo that last sentiment. In the age of Web 2.0, where Instagram rules (pictures, pictures, images, images), Best’s book is a frontrunner for what I’m certain is to be a new style of presenting research. Too, when he notes: “Uranus by transit tends to pervert the values associated with a given sign,” you’re going to want to follow him further down the rabbit hole to see how his analysis supports that claim.
Our interview took place over email and like my meeting with Nick, I found it beguiling and incredibly informative. Enjoy.
What is it about Gemini that, when transited by Uranus, makes for such radical synergy? That combination really rocks the underpinnings of American culture. Why?
I am not going to be able to answer the “why”, because I don’t know why astrology works. I gather data and report interesting correlations. My job is to NOT have a theory about why astrology works, but to isolate and present information that might inspire or assist in the theories of others. In my view, astrology is not short on theories, but is gravely lacking in research data. Having access to timed natal charts is great, but astrologers don’t merely study the personalities of individuals, we study their lives from birth to death. To do that, one needs plenty of event data to accompany the natal charts we use to investigate astrology. That is a gap in our community that I aim to help fill.
I am a chronology and calendar zealot, I have always been a history buff with thousands of notable dates effortlessly memorized. That is the primary skill set I brought to astrology when I discovered it in January 1995. It is astrology’s calendar-like properties that fascinate me. I’ve spent the last 15 years developing a database of various biographical and historical subjects using my calculation software. As a writer and storyteller, I use the astrological calendar to shape my material. The astrology leads, and I follow.
My book URANU.S.A. tells the story of the seven-year transit of Uranus through tropical Gemini that occurs once every eighty-four years. These intervals happen to coincide rather elegantly with the eras of the American War of Independence (1774-1782), the Lincoln-Douglas debates/U.S. Civil War (1858-1865), and the U.S. involvement in World War II/early cold war period prior to the Soviets building an atomic bomb (1941-1949). The book looks at these three eras in three chapters, examining both the nativities of key figures from the period and mundane charts of important events.
However, the book isn’t really about Uranus in Gemini or the United States. It is about the tropical zodiac. I wrote the book to document and demonstrate the ingress, passage, and exit of a planet through one tropical sign. It is a very simple concept, and I wanted to focus my first book on it because it establishes a basis for everything else I plan to write about.
All my stories generally follow the same type of cyclical rhythm as this one, where we just keep revisiting a particular moment in a given cycle, examine it, and then jump ahead to the next one, resulting in a sort of weave of themes. Uranus was the ideal planet to use because its eight-four year cycle gives me the right amount of time to play with in order to make my point. U.S. history was appropriate on anecdotal grounds, because of the interesting facts I could combine with the discovery of Uranus in March 1781, as the Articles of Confederation created the first government of the United States of America.
I could write a version of this book about Russia and Uranus in Capricorn, or France and Uranus in Leo, or Great Britain and Uranus in Sagittarius, or China and Uranus in Aries, or Canada and Uranus in Cancer, but using the U.S. and Uranus in Gemini allowed me to work in a story about the planet’s discovery, making it the natural starting point. I suppose the fact that the book happens to be printed and sold almost exclusively in the U.S.A. is convenient. I have a lot more to say about Uranus, this is just one book that presents one small piece of a much larger argument.
OK, I understand you’re not attempting to define how astrology works, but stretch a little here and venture some ideas or propositions as to what Gemini’s attributes are, especially when triggered by Uranus; a transit that corresponds to these red alert periods in American history.
As you note in your book, when Uranus has transited Gemini the United States fought for and won independence from England, and then eighty-four-years later our Civil War blackened the horizon and then eighty-four-years later, we’d the U.S.A.’s involvement in World War II.
Uranus by transit tends to pervert the values associated with a given sign. Back when Uranus ingressed into Virgo in 1961-1962, we saw Warhol, the Beatles, and Marvel Comics turn pop culture into high culture, creating the great new works of fine art, music, and literature. Virgo’s relationship to culture was given a twist, it was reconfigured to accommodate new forms. These days, with Uranus in Aries, we see mass leaderless movements, like the Arab Spring and Occupy, just like the revolutions in Europe of 1848, or the union strikes of the 1930s. Aries wants that one man at the front who is going to lead the charge. With Uranus there, the charge is led by nobody, but there is a charge nonetheless.
With Gemini, we see a reconfiguring of alliances and partnerships. Someone who was a countryman can become a foreigner or even an enemy, or vice versa. The wars that the United States fights during periods when Uranus is in Gemini result in the nation redefining itself. It becomes a new country in the world with every turn. The War of Independence created it. The Civil War centralized it. The Second World War globalized it. What’s next?
Explain briefly, for novices, the difference between the sidereal zodiac and the tropical zodiac, and why you’re invested, as a researcher in reframing or reconsidering the tropical zodiac’s importance? What are we missing or misunderstanding about the tropical zodiac, as astrologers are using it today?
The sidereal zodiac is a twelve-part division of the ecliptic based around star constellations, while the tropical zodiac is a twelve-part division of the ecliptic based on the equinoxes and solstices. Because the equinoctial and solstitial points are in a fixed position, the tropical zodiac marks a central grid around which everything else revolves. It is a frame of reference that can be juxtaposed with the continuous movement of the planets and gradual precessional shift of the constellations.
The zodiac is problematic, because it is largely the product of our imaginations. It can’t be seen, it is a measurement of space to which we have attributed value. The twelve signs do appear to be distinct places, although I suspect many astrologers try to squeeze more archetypal material out of them than they really have to offer. I found it necessary to write about the relationship between a given planet and sign, because I wanted to closely examine what each brings to the mix. This will continue to be a theme in future books.
Do you work with the idea of modern rulerships. Where the outer planets are assigned to Scorpio, Aquarius and Pisces?
I don’t. However, I am really working with a different definition of the term “rulership” than the one that anybody who does work with modern rulerships is using. Rulership, as I use it, is a scheme by which any of the visible planets and lights can be in either dominant or superior relationships with each other. Mars can dominate Venus in Scorpio, Venus can dominate Mars in Libra, and so forth.
To apply this definition to modern rulerships, the implication would be that Pluto can be dominated by Venus while in Taurus, or that Neptune could be dominated by Mercury while in Virgo. But I don’t think that is the case. The outer planets transcend this scheme, they are visibly strong wherever they are, even in their supposed “detriment” signs. When Uranus entered Leo in 1955-56, we got Elvis Presley, the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll”. When Neptune entered Virgo in 1928-1929, we got “talkie” films.
That being said, astrologers who do use the modern rulerships are often using a very different definition of that same word. This definition could possibly be substituted with a word like “association”. The respective characters of the outer planets have similar traits to the common archetypes associated with their respective “rulership” signs. Uranus is quirky and rebellious like Aquarius, Neptune is visionary and elusive like Pisces, etc. That’s all well and good, but it has nothing to do with how I look at sign rulership.
Do you ascribe to the theory that astrologers are able to discern and then define the qualities of a planet by studying the moment in history — the events accompanying that moment — when the outer planet was discovered?
Yes, although I don’t think of it as a moment so much as I do an era. I look at the closest cardinal sign ingresses of a planet prior to and following its discovery. Pluto, for instance, making its cardinal ingress prior to the First World War, about 16 years prior to its discovery, was already starting to show itself.
I’m curious as to how you define qualities associated with Neptune and Pluto? In the large arc of human history, it seems there has not been enough time to observe and compile data that is meaningful — never mind truthful — as related to all three of the outer planets. Not enough empirical observation.
Politically, Neptune has to do with the collective, it gives us a modern view of the human masses that goes well beyond the immediate traditional community described by the Moon. It is the new world created by modern migration and labor. On a personal level, it has to do with things that diminish individuality or personal independence.
Pluto, on the other hand, is a sort of extreme Mercury: it takes people who have hit rock bottom and sends them to the top, and sends people from the top back down to the gutter. It makes small things big and big things small.
You are right about there not being enough empirical observation to fully understand either of these planets as much as we could, but at least some time has passed and we are on our way to working them out. On the other hand, I can’t believe folks are out there waxing philosophical on Eris or Sedna.
How do you read the biquintile between the Moon and Uranus in your natal chart? Is this a marker of someone destined to live with Uranus in such a personal, intimate way — so much so you’re able to write a book like URANU.S.A.?
I do have Uranus square my Sun/Moon midpoint, but as an astrologer I don’t feel any closer to it than any other planet. I am no more a specialist with a particular planet than a writer is a specialist with a particular letter in the alphabet. The closest personal connection I have to the story in this book is that one of my ancestors was captured at Saratoga while fighting for the British in 1777. I do discuss Saratoga in the book, but my own connection to the battle is irrelevant to the story and not mentioned. It just happens to be true. As for my Moon-Uranus bi-quintile, I suspect the universe will explain that one to me when transiting Uranus makes its conjunction to my natal Moon in 2018.
I chose Uranus strictly on practical and strategic grounds, in lieu of a corpus of astrology books that I plan to publish. As I indicated earlier, it was the right first move to make, simply to get the concept of a tropical zodiac established. The tropical zodiac is the most frequent target for critics of astrology, with the ignorant implication that astrologers don’t know about precession. So I felt I had to start off with something solid on that subject, just to be able to move forward. I’ve got many other arguments to make on this matter, but at least I’ve got that first step out of the way.
Looking ahead to the future, say, when your corpus is in place, what do you imagine the reader and researcher encountering from your keen gathering and observation of data?
I am writing historical non-fiction, using this very peculiar, ancient calendar that ascribes a unique value to every moment in human history. Combined as a whole, my work will provide an astrological worldview, a means by which readers can see various threads of history in politics and the arts presented in this special unified context. It is important to understand the past through astrology if we are really going to try and use it to understand the present and future. My only conviction regarding astrology is that it is a natural phenomenon that we simply don’t understand yet. There is a lot of evidence to support this conviction, and my each of my books will touch on one small body of it.
And in closing: What five books would you recommend to a beginning student of astrology? And why.
1. The ephemeris (any version). It is the combined biography of billions of souls.
2. Parker’s Astrology by Derek and Julia Parker, available in many versions, sometimes called “The Compleat Astrologer”. The Parkers did a great job of appealing to beginners, while still providing quite a bit of advanced material for those who are ready for step 2.
3. The Round Art by A.T. Mann. Another fascinating book that gets you in on the ground floor, but doesn’t leave you stranded there.
4. Astrology For The Millions by Grant Lewi. I haven’t read it in over 15 years, and it was already decades old by then, but it still holds up as a popular introduction to the subject.
5. Planets in Transit by Rob Hand. Astrology isn’t just about reading natal charts. Any beginner would do well to learn early about transits. Not the final word on the subject, but certainly a good starting point.
Want more of a peek into URANU.S.A. before purchasing your copy? This video, narrated by Nick, reveals the fascinating patterns Uranus makes in the charts of significant figures and historical turning points within the United States.