Tales from the Other Side of Astrology

Several 19th century graves on the Grandmother Land, summer 2011. Photo by Eric Francis.

Dear Friend and Reader:

Being an astrologer is sometimes like being a metaphysical minister. People assume we have a connection to the other side, and many of us do. Practicing astrology helps people enhance their subtle senses. There is a need to reach a little beyond the obvious, into the unseen, and this gradually helps us open doors. More significantly, astrologers are presumed to be open-minded about things that other people won’t believe in, or won’t go near. We hear about a vast diversity of human experiences, including plenty that people would never tell their therapist.

In truth, it’s only a short hop from studying these mysterious charts, and the lives of both the living and the dead, to direct encounters with the spirit world. I understood this was the reason why a young mother approached me one evening in a bar on Vashon Island in Washington State, and asked me if I had any experience dealing with haunting or possession.

The infamous (and now gone) Jesus barn on Vashon Island, Washington, formerly on the property in question. Historic photo.

I asked if there was a child involved. The answer was yes — her young daughter. The mother believed some kind of spirit occupying their home had been coming through and tormenting her daughter, but the child had other problems.

She said the spirit contact didn’t happen all the time, only periodically. I suggested that if things got worse, they get the child out of the house immediately, since children, especially those with any kind of psychic or emotional disturbance, make an easy foothold for certain kinds of entities.

She asked me to visit the house, and I agreed. This turned out to be located on the property where the old Jesus barn was — a barn that had the word Jesus painted on the front exterior. Everyone knew this place, and when the barn collapsed and was torn down, it lived on in memory.

Things don’t change fast on Vashon. One of the odd mannerisms of islanders was to give directions suggesting that people “turn right where the Jesus barn used to be.” The grounds had a strange feature: a sinkhole into the Earth. I mean a hole so deep and wide that people would dispose of old washing machines and refrigerators by throwing them into the hole.

Historically, there was one other oddity: decades earlier, there was a boxing ring on the property. There was a tradition that when two neighbors had an issue, they would settle it with a bare-fisted fight in the ring, as everyone watched. Learning this bit of history gave me a clue what was under the laidback, extremely mellow passive aggression that can manifest on the island.

The next day I met her and her partner there. The house was enormous — ridiculously large for a family of three. But it also felt cramped at the same time. It was cold and dark. The family would huddle in the kitchen, which was kept warm by a wood stove. In the 1960s it was occupied by a cult. She showed me a kind of attic off of the second floor that had been decorated with satanic graffiti on the walls. In 40 years, nobody had bothered to paint it over. It was vile stuff, laden with hatred and negativity.

The child’s room, on the second floor, felt cramped and strange. I repeated my warning: if anything else happens to the kid, get her out of here fast. I was concerned because the descriptions of what was happening were evidence of a classical poltergeist situation: moving objects, slamming doors — and an emotionally stressed, weakened child. The relationship can eventually break the integrity of the child and result in a situation of actual possession.

One traditional use of frankincense is to attract protective angelic entities. There is a reason the magi, who were trained in the esoteric arts, brought it to Jesus. That said, it’s also necessary to consciously invoke your protection and assistance in any situation where you might need to do such a thing, and in my own work it serves partly as a reminder to do so. As for blue light, which draws on the high end of the spectrum — not sure how that works but I’ve found it to be effective. Photo by Eric Francis.

Within the space of the home, the haunting manifested the sensation of fake cobwebs on Halloween, only energetically, clinging to everything. And there was the weird feeling of the house being very large and very small at the same time. The place was rundown and untidy — which is an invitation for dark spirits to take up residence.

A few weeks later I got a phone call. The child had come under severe attack. The couple wanted to move out. The kid was with her father, in a safe space. Having taken these precautions, what should they do next?

I gave them an escape plan: put a blue light bulb in every fixture in the house, flood the house with frankincense smoke, pack and get out. I said use resin incense (it’s much more pure than regular incense) burn it on charcoal pads, and keep it going. These are not solutions — but they will buy you some time. They had taken the frankincense part seriously — they had a little furnace going in a cast iron pot.

I came over that night. The house was glowing blue. The sweet-smelling smoke was practically seeping from the doors and windows. They were packing their belongings into boxes and suitcases and had moved out by the next day. I never heard from them again.

I am not an expert on the subject of haunting or possession, so I cannot say I know what actually happened. Were this to have persisted as a discussion point between us, or had this seemed any weirder than it was, I would have likely referred them to someone better equipped to handle the situation, on a psychological or spiritual level (best with someone who understands the overlap). I was aware there were other circumstances involved, including the mental state of the adult caregivers. At least they had the sense to inquire what they should do. I designed my suggestions to be harmless even if I was wrong. If a physical space is a source of stress, it’s usually a good idea to leave, if one wants to stay healthy. We’re so accustomed to stress that we tend not to notice it. Noticing is the first step and choosing is the second.

I would add one other take-away. Society only sanctions this kind of possibility in movies. Just about everyone knows it’s real. And there’s a denial factor. So this is a source of tension, especially since contact with the nonphysical happens frequently and may be getting more commonplace due to something called ‘the quickening’. I propose we create a safe space to have the conversation.

A Vast World of Ghosts

Early in my astrological career, I was thrown a number of difficult cases involving the deaths of people close to my clients. Most of the deaths involved girls or young women, in two cases mothers who had recently lost children. One day my phone rang and it was a young man whose girlfriend had just killed herself. They were both in their 20s. I took the basic data, including her chart data, and made room in my schedule for him to come over that day.

View from the summit, above the Chironian in Rosendale, NY, where we said goodbye to my client’s girlfriend. Photo by Eric Francis.

He was the one who walked in on the scene three days after she shot herself. Part of the trauma was discovering the gruesome vision of her bloated corpse. He was sad and grieving, but he was also grounded and realistic about what had happened. Suicide always comes with the ‘what if’ factor, but he didn’t seem to be blaming himself. We read the astrology and talked about some of the emotional issues involved.

My instincts told me that the most important thing we could do was create the space for a clear goodbye; for a completion. So we walked from my first office, located in a little corner of Rosendale, NY, up a hill with a view to the west. This is the hill that’s over the healing cave I call the Chironian. We sat on the edge of a cliff above a sheer drop into some very deep cement mines, looking west toward the Catskill Mountains.

It was a warm spring evening. We sat up there and watched the Sun set, talking about her life and hanging out with the memory of who she was. The long, slow conversation came with a strange, otherworldly feeling as we watched the horizon sitting on the edge of a cliff. I was hanging out with this young guy who had just gone through this loss, and been confronted with the stark reality of death. It was a pure human-to-human encounter, set on some outpost of time and space where just he and I existed.

I was no longer an astrologer, but his companion on a journey through the unknown — and this taught me a lot about how to think of my clients.

We parted ways that evening. Later that night I was back in my apartment, where I lived with my two cats, Ling Ling and William Pen. I had a neighbor across the hall, who was out of town. I was cat sitting for her, so I had her door open and the cats could all roam freely around. I had also been doing some work up in the attic, and a door into the ceiling was open, with the ladder dropped down. It was about 2 am and I was alone in the house.

House on Binnewater Lane in Rosendale, NY, that was thrust into the world of spirits. This is also the place where I wrote my first horoscope column, in April of 1995. My apartment was on the second floor on the left side. Photo by Eric Francis.

Suddenly I felt a presence, as if the space had changed. It was suddenly much larger. Imagine you’re sitting in an ordinary living room, then you recognize that it’s on the floor of a stadium. That’s how it felt. Everything had opened up, as if the whole building had been thrust into a different dimension. It felt like there were many, many presences, as if hundreds of people were scurrying around in both apartments and up in the attic. I was not even vaguely frightened or creeped out. It was just a really interesting feeling, and I embraced their presence with an open heart.

I checked in with my cats — they were acting nonchalantly. So were my neighbor’s. I knew that if the cats did not sense danger, I was not in danger. Animal senses are usually sharper than those of people, and they extend further out to both ends of the spectrum. They have a keen sense of whether they are safe. This is one reason why certain practitioners of the psychic arts have what are called ‘familiars’ — specially designated animals who they keep nearby. (My cats and I had an understanding that this was part of their role.) They provide a sense of grounding as you move through the dimensions, including grounding in one’s identity and present space-time.

Then I felt the presence of his girlfriend. I was not scared — I was moved, almost to tears. I cleared off my couch for her, the one where I would usually sit when doing readings. I sat where my clients would usually sit, on a folded futon couch near the window. The first thing I did was welcome her. I made it vividly clear that she was welcome. I lit a candle and treated her just like I would treat any client, being present for her. We did not exchange words, only the sense of one another’s presence. I sat there with her and lovingly acknowledged her existence and her life.

Gradually the sensation faded. Her presence slowly departed and the dimensional opening seemed to seal back up. I was now back in my normal apartment, having had a rather unusual experience. Nothing quite like that ever happened again, though a lot of interesting things happened on that land.

Do They Know They’re Dead?

I have a tradition of doing a nude photo shoot every year in a cemetery, often around Days of the Dead. It’s difficult to make these original. The nude-woman-in-the-cemetery is one of the most played-out clichés of photography students. It’s easy to do badly.

Book of Blue model Heather Fae Speaker slips into the world between the worlds, on the grave of Sarah Ann Christiana at the Old Tongore Cemetery, Days of the Dead, 2009. Photo by Eric Francis.

For a while I was signed on as a photographer for Find-a-Grave, the Facebook of dead people. It’s one of the basic websites that bigger sites like Wikipedia link into, so that in the case of a notable dead person, there is a photo and location of the grave. But many other graves are listed.

One day I got a request to locate and photograph a certain grave in the Old Tongore Cemetery, located out near the Ashokan Reservoir. The Old Tongore Cemetery is very old, and not very large. I was looking for the grave of a woman named Sarah Ann Christiana who had died early in the 20th century. It took three separate visits to the cemetery to find the grave — including two searches with the neighbor of the cemetery. Finally I found the old guy who had the grave records, a farmer who lived in the small hamlet of Tongore. He looked up that particular name and told us where to find it. The weird part is that we had walked past that spot many times and not seen the grave.

My fourth visit to the cemetery was to take photos early one Sunday morning in November. It was a beautiful sunny day — the last warm day of the year. Old Tongore seemed to be the perfect place to go for the project. I was starting to become old friends with the place. I had recruited one of my most trusted models, Heather Fae Speaker. We were working very early for two reasons: the first was to get long light, with the Sun close to the horizon. The second was for security. If you’re going to photograph nude in a cemetery, it’s a good idea to do it when others are not likely to be around.

Everett Cook, president of Tongore Cemetery Assn., locates the grave of Sarah Ann Christiana in his record files. Photo by Eric.

We went to Sarah Ann’s grave, which was under a beautiful tree in the last row, on the east end of the cemetery. I set up my cameras. Heather Fae undressed.

The moment she sat down on the ground her comportment changed: her body language, her facial expression and the feeling of her presence. I looked at her and I knew what was going on.

“Can you feel them?”

She nodded.

“Do they know they’re dead?”

She shook her head no. I knew to ask because this is a common phenomenon: people often die and they don’t know it. They can be caught in a hologram between the worlds, a kind of mental pattern they cannot let go of. They think they’re alive. Maybe they get up and get dressed every day in an endless cycle of repetition. They live what feels like a life, but nothing ever changes.

That’s the problem with this world: often, the dead don’t know they’re dead, and the living don’t know they’re alive.

Eric Francis

Friday, Oct. 28, 2011. Horoscope #880. | Eric’s Zodiac Sign Descriptions

Aries (March 20-April 19) — Do you remember that old novelty sign, ‘A clean desk is a sign of a sick mind’? Like most jokes about human nature, there is a grain of truth to this. In order to invoke your creativity, it’s necessary to dance with chaos. Sometimes a lot of chaos, sometimes just a little, but it’s necessary to let go of existing reality sufficiently to allow in something new. This is what you seem to be up to now, and by up to I mean ready for. It looks like you’ve been trying to contain the many pressures that are acting on your psyche, knowing that this would not be able to last. You can let go a little and see what happens. This will have the element of risk, but it’s not an especially big one. Embracing the unknown is something we do all the time. And just because your desk is neat doesn’t mean you can find what you’re looking for.

Taurus (April 19-May 20) — You seem to be holding onto something, and that is the source of your tension. You could just as easily stretch, expand, release or share — you would feel a lot better. To do that, however, you would need to change something that feels like a fundamental belief about yourself. While your current plight seems to be emotional, it really goes to the deeper level of faith in yourself. That, in turn, translates to having confidence in your connection to existence; if you felt that, you would know there’s nothing to hold onto, only to share. There is a paradox here, which many have noted. It’s through offering yourself that you discover how much you have to give. If you withhold, you will feel like you’re lacking. If you offer, you will feel your abundance. This may be a mental trick, but if it is, it’s one that points to reality.

Gemini (May 20-June 21) — Your mind appears to be tied up in knots, but it looks like you’ve reached the level where you have an idea of what’s going on, rather than just the sensation of being caught or snagged. I feel confident saying that as a Gemini you’re familiar with the distinctly dualistic aspect of your nature. The two sides that are currently vying for supremacy are your masculine and feminine aspects. I can give you a clue that may help you go deeper: try to move beyond the ideas of what these sides of you are about and get to the level of direct experience. If you’re experiencing conflict, start by taking one side, then the other. Keep switching sides until you start to discern what they both have in common. Then you can get an actual dialog going. Remember — relationships are built on common ground, rather than on differences, and this includes your inner relationship.

Cancer (June 21-July 22) — You have plenty of emotional leverage right now; a little self-control is all it will take to harness some excellent creative and/or sexual energy. Certain situations in your life that you thought were stuck are starting to come loose, giving you freedom to move, stretch and make some choices. I have one clue for how to maximize your mobility: forget what other people think. Stop seeking approval, or taxing your mind with the thought of what might happen if you have or don’t have that approval. The ‘others’ who might give you a thumbs up or down exist exclusively in your mind. Therefore, you can go a long way by approving of yourself. Or as a young David Hoffman, the first of many brilliant legal minds I had the pleasure of working with once said, “Do whatever you want until someone tells you that you can’t” — if they ever bother.

Leo (July 22-Aug. 23) — The obstacles you face are so small, they are actually more like footholds. If you experience any conflict, treat it like an opportunity. Someone resisting you is actually giving you their energy; agree mutually to make creative use of that offer. Apply this to any situation where there is tension; there have been many lately, though fortunately the new ones will be somewhat gentler and have a bit less of a dramatic flair. They have taught you one thing, anyway, which is that you can focus your will and intentions no matter what anyone else might think. Your strength at the moment is coming from below — from underneath you, from your emotional grounding, from your sense of what your own past has given you. There is no place you cannot go, if you have your feet on the ground. There is nothing you cannot accomplish, if you know what you want.

Virgo (Aug. 23-Sep. 22) — Recently, an odd point called Transpluto entered your sign. It’s not a planet, asteroid or star — it’s classified as a hypothetical point, existing only in mathematics and the minds of astrologers. Here is the strange part: it takes nearly seven centuries to go around the Sun. It was in Leo from the mid-1930s till last week. For the next four years it will be dancing back and forth between Leo and Virgo. One effect this will have is to put you under an inner microscope. You’ll be able to see yourself more accurately, and you’ll be able to see your tendency for self-criticism in a more realistic light. Here is what I suggest: accept only the kinds of critique that give you a choice in the matter of who you are. You can assume as categorically false any thought that backs you into a corner.

Libra (Sep. 22-Oct. 23) — I’m not a big believer in how the universe ‘tests’ us. I know, some people are. But some things do feel like tests. You’ve been through one lately, which has if anything strengthened your emotional resolve, particularly around an important financial issue. In a few days Venus, the planet associated with your sign, is going to make a square to Neptune. If this is a test, it’s about being true to yourself — especially in the face of some deception or fog that gives the illusion of truth. This may come in the form of group pressure, or the option to give yourself over to an opinion that you don’t actually agree with. For most people this would be a test of ethics on a scale that might cause a full meltdown. The threat of not being accepted by others is more than most mortals can stand. Good thing you’re feeling immortal these days.

Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov. 22) — Your life may feel like an unplanned trip to the Advanced Leadership Training Program. While this has been arriving with all kinds of challenges and opportunities to overcome the emotional chaos of the world (and of certain people close to you), you may be figuring out what a rare and precious thing actual leadership is. The message seems to be, the more you get your ego out of the way, the more authority you have. The more you define authority as the ability to guide things in a mutually positive direction, the happier everyone will be. Just note one thing: not everyone believes in this crazy notion of mutually positive. Most people’s game theory is so crude, there must be a winner and a loser in every transaction. If that were true, there would not be a living creature on the planet. Life sustains life.

Sagittarius (Nov. 22-Dec. 22) — You may not feel like a certain idea or project is ready for presentation to the world around you, but I suggest you take the chance and roll it out a little sooner than you were planning. Thankfully, you’re not a perfectionist. Yes, you’re more driven by attention to details than any description of your sign that you’ve ever read. This is especially true when a meaningful professional question is on the line, or when your reputation is at stake. So make sure that the few most meaningful details are right, but time is of the essence. This is a rare moment. What you’re sharing is the concept, and what you’re looking for is information that will advance that concept. Be aware that not everyone will understand; you may hear some dumb critiques. Yet if you take away one good idea, or one conversation that evolves your thinking, you’ve accomplished your goal.

Capricorn (Dec. 22-Jan. 20) — Have you noticed the prevailing state of emotional chaos in the world? You could hang a big sky in the upper atmosphere: Welcome to Planet Earth, where hardly anyone knows what to think or what to feel. This has its positive side; it can insinuate openness to new information or experience that would help us make up our mind. But if the question “who am I?” is asked insincerely, then the response is likely to do little other than deepen the confusion. I assure you that it’s safe for you to be confident in who you are right now. You’ve been through many developments that have reassured you that you’re not only on the right track, you’re on the right train, and it’s running on schedule. So stop begging the question. You have a mission. Yes, it’s different than everyone else’s mission — and this fact gives you a dependable point of clarity.

Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 19) — It’s time to revise your strategy. For a while, you’ve been working with the idea of what you need to give up in order to have what you want. That will work better if you’re figuring out that it’s better to give up what you don’t want and don’t need as a way of making room for what will enhance your life. As for that change in strategy: it involves knowing when to be honest and when to apply camouflage. As you’ve learned recently, it’s not always a good idea to engage people in conflict, even if you’re right and even if you think you can win. There are times when it’s helpful to put on your cloaking device and slip unnoticed from the room. Other times, someone is going to put a microphone and TV camera in your face and you’ll know it’s time to tell it like it is. The coming days and weeks will offer a variety of both.

Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20) — You may feel like your life is a mixed bag at the moment, but if you pay attention you’ll notice that you’ve been winning every round, and are on the way to advancing to the next league. Maintain your policy of putting up with nothing, stopping at nothing and being open to everything. Be sure to apply actual, conscious discernment whenever you come to a point where it’s time to make a choice — and there will be many the next few weeks. Most people don’t recognize those crucial junctures. You have the ability to, and at the moment you have the awareness to identify the people in your life with unusual precision. Once you ‘get’ who someone is and what their agenda is, all you need to do is treat them appropriately. When someone is generous with you, return the favor in kind — but don’t give anyone the benefit of the doubt when there is none.

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