2005_03_stephlarge.jpgWhen Stefanie Iris Weiss offered to send me her book Surviving Saturn's Return: Overcoming the Most Tumultuous Time of Your Life, I agreed, thinking that I would glance at it once and then toss it onto the ever-growing pile of books in my living room. But when I started reading this guide geared toward women about to turn 30, I became hooked. I discovered all sorts of nuances to astrology, and found the chapter on Saturn in Leo, where it was when I was born, uncannily accurate in its description of the personal, professional and emotional challenges facing those born under this sign. The book tackles each sign in depth, exploring the specifics of the Saturn Return and how one can best handle this upheaval.

33-year-old Weiss (Sun in Aries, Libra rising, moon in Sagittarius) holds an M.A., and in addition to her writing duties, works as an astrologer and adjunct professor of writing and gender studies at Marymount Manhattan College. In addition to astrology, Weiss has written five self-help books, including Coping With the Beauty Myth: A Guide for Real Girls, and a novel, Starrgazer, which she describes below, and Fate of Your Date, an illustrated advice guide to getting the edge in the dating universe via astrology, face reading and other techniques, which will be published by Chronicle Books in 2006. Of all these topics, clearly astrology is her greatest passion. Whether you're a diehard astrology believer, a skeptic, or somewhere teetering between the two, like me, Weiss's ideas about Saturn's Return, especially as they relate not only to one's personal life, but politics and current events, including 9/11 and the most recent election, are worthy of at least an open mind.

How did you go from being skeptical to being an astrologer?
I've always loved science. When I was a little girl, beyond my love of all things Barbie, my favorite toy was the Invisible Man, the cross-sectional human body doll. I've always sought proof of everything and taken little on faith. I've been a hardcore secular humanist for most of my life. In my early twenties, a friend encouraged me to have my chart done. (In astrological jargon, this is called the "natal chart", literally a picture of the heavens above you at the moment of your birth.) I scoffed, but went ahead and did it as a lark. It was so uncannily accurate that I began a study. Within five years I was using astrology in my work as a writer, and several years later I started a practice. Just because we don't yet understand the mechanism behind astrology doesn't mean it's invalid. That's what I had to get over. I believe that within fifty years the scientific community will figure out how astrology works. Geologists only understood the mechanism of plate tectonics in the middle of the twentieth century. This doesn't mean that the earthquakes that happened before then weren't real earthquakes. String theorists suggest that there are eleven dimensions. If you can wrap your brain around that you can accept that there might be something to this astrology stuff. Right?

You write an advice column for Teen Vogue; how do you come up with those ideas? Is it a challenge to create new advice every month?
It's incredibly fun. I actually consult an astronomical ephemeris, a guide to the location of the planets, and base the column on it. It's the real deal. The horoscope columns you read in the newspaper are very general, because you don't have a client's actual chart in front of you, with all its personal permutations. But surprisingly you can get to the essence of a particular week or month for each sign. Since Teen Vogue is all about fashion, much of the advice is filtered through this lens. And it's written for teen girls, with whom I'm very familiar. (I've written five self-help oriented books for teens about various topics: yoga, beauty/body image, veganism, etc.) I know a lot of style-obsessed women in their twenties and thirties that read Teen Vogue, and they tell me that the column is often right on.

What’s the most challenging thing about your work as an astrologer?
The hardest moments are when a client is going through a really difficult transit, and I'm not quite sure how to present it. I'm not fatalistic: a lot of astrologers look at transits and say "Oh, your mother is going to get sick because you're having a Pluto/moon transit." I think that's crap. It's all metaphor. And if we deal with the psychological issues that our charts present to us, often the external events are mediated. It's a very Jungian approach, and I find that it works.

You reference political and current events, such as the Saturn Return of the World Trade Center, and also relate astrology to politics on your blog, mentioning events such as President Bush’s State of the Union address. How do politics fit in with the Saturn’s Return?
Everything can be filtered through the lens of astrology. You can chart anything—the birth of a child and the birth of a building. The WTC was in its first (and final) Saturn Return when it went down on 9/11. This was an extremely startling metaphor. Also, Saturn was in Gemini at the time, the sign of twins—the Twin Towers. Freaky.

Bush is currently finishing up his second Saturn return. In 2004, almost every time someone would reveal another appalling character flaw or some egregious lapse in judgment on his part, it coincided with an exact hit of Saturn to his chart. From Richard Clark to the reemergence of those MIA years in the National Guard, it all fit nicely with his Saturn return. In fact, when he made a huge fool of himself during the second debate (the one in which he mentioned "hard work" about eleven times) Saturn was making an exact hit. Despite Saturn, however, he squeaked in. Honestly I've been way too depressed since the election to look into how he avoided a downfall that many astrologers thought inevitable. Give me some time on this one, I'm still in recovery mode.

It seems like a large part of the book’s message is that your Saturn Return will wreak havoc on your life for those key years. How can one be prepared and combat this?
It does not, I repeat, does not have to be this way at all. That's why we wrote Surviving Saturn's Return. My co-author (Sherene Schostak, also my best friend) and I were both in our own Saturn returns when we conceived the book. If you know in advance that issues are going to arise, it's much easier to avoid the chaos. There will surely be change, but the change can be made less dramatic and wholly positive if you know that you're going through it. It doesn't have to be hell and turmoil.

Does everyone go through a period of Saturn Return?
Yes, everyone goes through it between 28 and 30, approximately. Sometimes you can feel it a few years before, and sometimes the reverberations last well into the thirties. Depends on how well you've addressed your own issues. We wrote for a female audience for several reasons. First, we understood the chick experience firsthand. Second, women have a harder time turning thirty because of the triple whammy of biological clocks, wrinkle-fears, and the still relevant stigma of being single beyond one's thirtieth birthday. It still exists, despite Sex and the City and all the progress of feminism. Many women have little old maid voices inside their heads that begin to sound like sirens around 30. Then there are the women that got married before their Saturn returns. They're often the ones in real trouble, because they essentially got married before they grew up. If everyone waited until after their Saturn return (men and women) to marry the divorce rate would probably decrease markedly. Just a theory.

Why, if the Saturn Return comes every seven years, is it this one that is so prominent and powerful?
Saturn makes a major transit to the birth chart every seven years, but it only makes its return every thirty or so years. The "return" is simply when it goes back to the sign that it was in when you were born. Just as you're born into a sun sign that gives you the answer to the question: "Hey baby, what's your sign?" you're born with a Saturn sign.

So if you were born in 1976, your Saturn is in Leo, etc. Saturn stays in each sign for two years. It's confusing, I know. That's why folks should read the book.

Since there are countless astrology columns in magazines, newspapers and online, how does one know which one to follow? What differentiates yours from other ones?
Umm, sheer coolness and pure wisdom? No, ours is distinguished by its fashion/teen focus. My favorite column (other than my own) is Susan Miller at astrologyzone.com. She's great for a general reading for the month.

What do you need to know about someone to give them a personal, individualized reading?
Exact time and place of birth. You lose a lot if you don't have the exact time. This is what likens a natal chart to a fingerprint.

What is a person supposed to take away from a personalized reading? How can they use that information to better build their lives? Because it seems like a lot of what you’re doing is telling people how things are in their world, rather than giving them prescriptives for what they can do to change.
Readings usually provide insight into the root causes of issues and events that crop up. My readings are very, very psychologically oriented. I look back at the relationships to the parents and siblings, at the life history, and try to isolate the origin of whatever happens to be coming up at the time of the reading. Almost always, there's a relationship, because everything happens in cycles. You can use the chart as a map of this sort of thing.

Prescription is a huge part of a reading. I always send my clients away with a list of things they can do to address their issues. Often a person is unconsciously blocking some core energy, and if they can find a healthy way to release it, the problem is fixed. Sometimes I tell them to take a dance class or write in a journal or to start a course of traditional therapy. It depends on what the chart and the client tells me. I also like to give an astrology "lesson" so that my clients don't need to rely on me, and pay me more money, to get information that they can uncover on their own. I like to teach them to fish instead of just feeding them for a session. There's something extremely satisfying about recognizing a certain pattern in your life, and changing it.

Do you see astrology relating to therapy and/or religion? As I read your book, it seemed that many of the issues you counsel about are ones that people tackle through those lenses as well, such as ambition, self-confidence, anger, loss, childhood suffering, etc.
Absolutely! Astrological counseling is a like a therapeutic crucible. It's a lot to take in all at once, but people find it useful for healing many spiritual and psychological afflictions. Usually a lot of processing is necessary, but I try to send my clients away with enough knowledge so that they can pursue their own study, at their own pace.

What have you learned about yourself that’s been the most helpful in navigating your own path in the years since you first started studying astrology?
I realized quickly that I was on exactly the right course in terms of career. Any astrologer glancing at my chart would know instantly that I was meant to be a writer and teacher. I must admit that I've heartily resisted what my chart has suggested in terms of men. I've been involved with guys that were so wrong for me that it's actually hilarious to think about in retrospect. If I heeded the charts, this wouldn't have happened. But I've learned, thank god.

What would you say to someone who’s totally skeptical about astrology? Do you try to "convert" people into believing in it, or can people approach it if and when they’re ready to?
I never try to convert skeptics. I reason with them, give them my science bit, and appreciate their stance. I lived it for a long time, and still require proof for most things that come across my radar. If they were willing, I'd ask that they get a chart done for fun, the way that I did. I think it helps if you don't take it seriously on the first round. Then you can take it or leave it.

Along the same lines, can you take some of these ideas and concepts and leave others, or is it an all-or-nothing package?
There are a lot of hokey astrologers out there. I have to admit that some of them embarrass me quite a bit. I'm not very comfortable at conferences because I'm a typical, jaded New Yorker in my way. There are some theories that are completely outlandish and laughable. I use what works for me, and leave some concepts to those that wear hideous head scarves and see dead people.

Is Saturn’s Return something that only affects women? What is its impact on men?
Women deal with major father issues at the Saturn return. This often connects to the way we relate to boyfriends and husbands. For men, the return is more about ambition and becoming a man and ruling the world, or one's own world. For both genders, it's about becoming one's own authority and detaching finally from the parental complexes.

In terms of your profession, is there a certification one gets to become an astrologer and if so, what do you have to do to attain it?
There are many different schools of astrology and a lot of them offer degree programs. The most well-known and respected is the NCGR - National Council for Geocosmic Research.

Can you tell me a little about your forthcoming novel?
My novel is called Starrgazer. It's a YA sci-fi/fantasy/coming-of-age story narrated by a fourteen-year-old girl named Starr. Sort of Harry Potter meets Buffy meets Judy Blume. Starr struggles with her identity and questions her place in the universe. She is an absolute skeptic regarding the metaphysical world at the start of the novel, and as she finds herself, she discovers that she believes. (Okay, make an X-files joke if you want to!) It's a fairly edgy story that will be published by a new imprint at Houghton-Mifflin called Graphia in early 2006. I'm really excited about it. It's due in May; I sold it before I finished it. I’ve been working on it and a few other projects in the last year or so.

What’s the misconception about astrology that most angers you?
I hate it when people dismiss me as a New Age freak when I admit that astrology is one of the modalities in my toolbox. Astrology and astronomy were twin sciences until just a few hundred years ago. This in fact, is one of the precepts of my novel.

Find out more about Stefanie Iris Weiss and astrology, as well as read her blog at Saturnreturn.net. Surviving Saturn's Return: Overcoming the Most Tumultuous Time of Your Life is available now. Stefanie can be contacted at stefanieiris (a) gmail.com