Eric Francis. Photo by Kristos Katzios on Mykonos
Eric Francis is one of the world's most influential astrologers - as well as an award-winning investigative reporter. A quarter of a million people follow his astrology websites Planet Waves and Cosmic Confidential every month (links below), and his periodic cover sun sign horoscopes in the Daily Mail and many other publications have reached far larger audiences worldwide. Based in New York, Eric talks to Madame Arcati about his stargazing work - and his belief that self-sex - or masturbation - has an important future role to play in building emotionally healthier relationships.
Eric Francis! Astrologer extraordinaire! Tell us where you live, the most interesting vista from your home and how many hours a day you work.
I live in the world. Since 1998 I’ve written Planet Waves from about a dozen countries and lived long-term in half of them, most recently Belgium. I grew up in Brooklyn and I now make home in Kingston, New York. It’s a mountain town that’s the old capital of New York State, and it’s about two hours driving time north of New York City. It was burned down by the Brits in 1777 and I don’t think the locals have recovered.
I’m a restless person and I need a state of continuous change, although my Cancer ascendant wants familiarity and stability. Part of how I handle that is when I’m not traveling, I live and work between two different environments. I’ll describe the view from both. My apartment is on an ordinary city street but off the back porch is what looks like a rolling estate that’s been divided into backyards. It’s quiet and it feels like the country and has a secluded feeling. One cold night I found a possum on my back porch, eating the food I leave for my phantom cat.
My photo studio is a few blocks away, located in a business district that’s within the original 900-foot square bounds of a ‘stockade’ built by the Dutch in the 1600s to keep out the Indians. There, I live surrounded by my own artwork; that is the main vista. From one of my studio windows, I look out over a very old intersection in the middle of what appears for all the world to be an idyllic American small town. In some ways it is.
Most of the time I work about 12 hours a day, and depending on the time of year, that can go on five or six days a week. I’m a writer by profession but it happens that writing is also one of my passions. Photography is another, and when I’m involved in those things the creative aspect is more noticeable than the work aspect.
I first came across you when you covered for the Daily Mail's Jonathan Cainer -- he obviously thinks very highly of you -- and then I started reading your astrology websites Cosmic Confidential, Planet Waves and other sites. I understand the late Patric Walker inspired you to be an astrologer -- how did he do that and was he the best ever?
Photo by Danielle Voiron in Paris
Jonathan has been extremely kind to me. If I told some of the stories of his generosity you might not believe them, though understating things considerably, he's a mensch -- Yiddish for authentic human being. I have never known someone with such fame and acclaim to provide so many opportunities for young people to show their talent and get a solid start. Truly, we need more of this in the world and Jon is an excellent example of standing up for who and what you believe in.
As for someone else who previously wrote for the Mail -- I knew about astrology for a long time before the Patric Walker horoscope (published locally in the NY Post) got my attention and proved that astrology is real. Patric spoke to me, and he spoke to the millions; he had that gift, though I think I heard him with unusual depth judging from the influence he had on my life. I followed his writing every day for a couple of years, astonished. I noticed he mentioned the positions of the planets in his interpretations; Patric would always leave his margin notes in the column. So over the years, I was thinking about the cosmos, using my daily horoscope as an ephemeris. Then one day I reached the boiling point and I had to figure out how he did it; so I bought an ephemeris and studied his column every night.
Patric was amazing. I think of him as the cosmic voice of reason. Part of what you do as a newspaper astrologer is you take up the voice of the cosmic order and you let it speak through you. Patric could to this beautifully, with true Libran elegance, yet he had the other part of Libra, which is a sense of justice. The precision of his timing and his ability to describe theme would evoke the sense that he was translating information from another realm, personally for you. He was always relevant, and never trivial. That was the hallmark of his column. I found this so compelling that I had to peer behind the veil of astrology and learn how to do it. In this way, Patric was the first astrologer I consciously adopted as a teacher. He is still my teacher today.
Unusually, you're an investigative reporter and you've written stories on Monsanto, General Electric, etc., for The New York Times, the Village Voice, Sierra magazine and The Ecologist. How did friends and family react to your career change? Did it affect your credibility as a journalist?
Investigative reporting and astrology writing have more in common than most people would imagine. For example, you have to sift through vast amounts of data and arrive at a fairly succinct description of the world. It’s necessary to write about complex matters in a way that people understand. Both call on the writer to be fair and broad-minded. The astrology I do requires the ability to understand science (particularly the subtle points of astronomy), and investigative journalism has helped greatly with that.
That said, there are important differences. At the time I took up astrology, I was ready to let go of the kind of hard-edged journalism I had been doing my whole adult life. I wanted to do something more personally meaningful to people on the human dimension. This required a deep commitment to change, since I had invested so many years and so much focus in my journalism career. I started at about 14 and was 30 at the time astrology called me. I was an up and coming rock star investigative reporter, handling serious issues and starting to get international attention. I could have gone anywhere I wanted from there, within that profession. Yet I chose something else, with full awareness.
Photo by Kristos Katzios on Mykonos
I’m sure it was confounding to people who had experienced me as someone so devoted to supposedly objective truth, and exposing the frauds of science, to take up something that is widely perceived to be a fraud. My feeling was, people might think that this reflects poorly on my journalistic credibility, but my journalistic credibility ought to be what reflects a positive light on astrology. I use my background to my advantage, if among skeptics.
How long did it take before you started practising as an astrologer? And what's your star sign?
After seven years of studying A Course in Miracles, and the other esoteric arts, I bought my first ephemeris on my birthday in March 1994. By April 1995 I was the author of an astrology column, in a magazine called Free Time. I am still writing that column today. I credit learning astrology so fast to the fact that I began writing about it for an audience early in my studies. I am a Pisces, though Aquarius is very strong in my chart. I have a Cancer ascendant, plenty of Chiron and a nice aspect between Mercury and Neptune.
What makes a good astrologer? Predictive ability? Most people just want to know about the future don't they?
I think what makes a good astrologer is to speak to people in a way people can relate to. You can be a great technical astrologer but if you cannot relate to people as people, what good is that? It’s vitally important to be judicious with astrology, and not the kind who thinks it’s about power. It’s true that people tend to have a future orientation, but I have noticed that this is often a distraction from their curiosity about themselves. I view my role as an astrologer as helping people stoke their self-inquiry, and to use the information coming from their chart to create the future rather than ‘have it happen’.
The problem is not that astrology is not capable of being used as a predictive tool, in certain hands; in my view it’s that prediction narrows the potential of the future when we can just as easily open up the door to better options. We can use the chart to see and create options for choice, rather than to pre-dictate.
Have you made a prediction about a world event you'd like to tell us about, or make one? Britain is in the throes of a general election...
Once in the summer of 1996, I was writing an article, and I saw that Chiron was about to go over the North Node in Libra. I thought: this looks like it has the potential for alien contact. I don’t usually write about alien contact and truthfully, it seemed a little out-there. So I took that statement out of the column! Then that month, Nasa called a press conference to announce for the first time they felt they had proof-positive of life on another planet — bacteria found in a Mars rock that had landed on Earth. I know this is not ET or Mr Spock, but it was certainly on theme. After that I learned to trust my perception and be bolder in my writing.
As a result of that policy, some years later I inadvertently predicted an earthquake the day of that horrendous quake in Haiti. That said, I do my best to avoid prediction and rather prefer to present my readers with a map of the world, which shows us some of the better routes we can take to the future. As for England: I am less concerned about this one election and more concerned about the fear and narrowness that I see gathering on your island, a place I hold dear to my heart.
I may be wrong on this, but why do so many professional astrologers have such disastrous love lives? Patric pined for the love of his life, actor Richard Chamberlain, and I hardly know of a stargazer who does not seem afflicted in the emotional department. (This is one way of asking you about your sex life, btw).
I don’t know enough to confirm that astrologers go through what you say, disproportionately from the rest of the population. But let’s imagine that’s true for a moment. I could see, and I’ve experienced, a few reasons why. We are constantly exposed to people's relationship troubles. They’re why most people come to astrologers, and frankly we do a lot of post-mortems on failed love affairs. And I think there are risks, to astrologers, in facing too much of this day-in and day-out for years. Also, astrologers tend to be exceedingly independent people. There are not a lot of relationship modalities that offer both intimacy and independence.
Photo by Danielle Voiron in Paris
I’m grateful that my background in Gestalt therapy has led me to focus on my relationship to myself. As a practitioner, I try to guide people toward closer relationships with themselves, rather than encouraging them to be hung up on whether someone loves them or not. I can tell you that my growth in relationships is a central focus of my life, and of my artwork (I am a photographer and fiction writer, at work on another project called Book of Blue).
Now, how would I sum up my sex life? The first thing to know is that I’m my own lover first, and every relationship extends from that. I think that on some level, I consider everyone my lover; I don’t think that intimacy or sexual awareness is supposed to be reserved only for ‘special relationships’. I’m curious about the eroticism of any woman I am close to, and of some men. I have a love of experimenting and exploring, though in a clear-headed and ethical way. I tend toward long-term associations that morph between friend and lover and back.
For me it’s a great pleasure to experience and be aware of the full spectrum of someone’s sexuality, not just what they experience in their relationship to me. That is to say, if you’re my lover, or a close friend, I’m going to be curious about the content of your fantasy life, how you feel about other people, and what you do, or want to do, with them. I’ve found this draws me closer to my lovers and is a reminder that we’re all phases or aspects of one another’s stories on Earth; that we represent facets of one another’s existence.
That said, I could easily see myself very happily settling into a monogamous situation, if the right one presented itself. I think that sex in any form is about being real in the moment, and that would count.
You wrote a controversial sex piece on Planet Waves which included the lines, "I have an idea that masturbation is truly feminist sex"; and, "Men who embrace conscious masturbation can relax their demand on women as their only possible sexual or emotional outlet, finding their centre and easing the pressure for sex that many women feel." Is self-sex the future?
If we want some equanimity in our sexual relationships, and our social relationships, I think that self-sex is the sex of the future. We have so much we can learn, and let go of, by sharing masturbation consciously. True, it’s not exactly romantic — and that is precisely the point: to call back all those dreamy projections and reveal ourselves for who we are; and to see others as who they are. Many people are concerned about the potential adverse consequences of sex, and I think that they would find a dimension of erotic intimacy opening up through sharing self-sex — which is the ‘safest’ sex there is.
For many, self-sex is the present: it’s the only or most easily available sex they can find; the most trustworthy; the most frequently experienced; and for some (though most would not admit it), the most satisfying sex they have. I suspect a lot of people have taken a step back from relationships as being too challenging and complicated for the pleasure they provide. There is a wide middle ground, which is inviting others into the intimacy we normally share only with ourselves. Exploring this changes all of our relationships.
For plenty there’s still guilt and misgiving in any form of sex, with self or other. I would guess that most people feel they would benefit from some kind of sexual healing process. But where do you go for that? Well, we go toward ourselves. I would say that most of our ‘stuff’ in relationships is actually about our relationships to ourselves, and I think we know that intuitively.
Did business boom for you when the banks nearly collapsed? I understand many of your clients are entrepreneurs and business people. How many people all told read your horoscopes and astrological reports?
As the recession has progressed, we’ve been growing steadily as a company and my work is in greater demand; bless. There seems to be more of a call for my individual reports and private sessions currently, and a retreat from an interest in news astrology, though this is cyclical, and I am aware that we are about to experience a huge burst of curiosity about ‘the world’.
The recession takes world affairs and makes them deeply personal. In all aspects of my work, I emphasize the connection between people and the world; between our private and our public lives. One of the operating concepts of Planet Waves is, "The personal is political," and we are going to be seeing a lot more of this as the 2010-2012 alignment develops (with a major peak of energy in early June, by the way). Every aspect of life is going to call us to get more involved, and we will need the tools do navigate that involvement with clarity. Astrology is one of those tools, and it leaves room for many others.
I prefer to work with people who strive to make a contribution to the world. I strongly prefer working with people who have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility, who have creative vision, and who need to participate constructively. I am often surprised who these people turn out to be, which I can tell, in part, from the vacation email replies that come back from certain subscribers when they are on holiday -- people I never would have dreamed knew about me, much less pay to read my writing.
As for numbers, lately I would put my average readership through all venues at about a quarter-million readers each month. This is a little daunting, to think that I can influence that many people's ideas about life on a regular basis.
Don't you think Sun sign astrology (the horoscopes in papers and magazines) gives stargazers a bad name? It's just showbiz, right?
If it was just showbiz, it would be easier, and it would require little in the way of ethics, or study, or talent. Part of the problem is editors, who strain to tell good astrology writing from bad, or who want horoscope writers to play down to their audience and give fashion advice. The very best newspaper astrologers also happen to be the best trained: rigorously, and gifted with a certain something extra which cannot be acquired. Writing horoscopes requires precision of both language and interpretation. Intuition counts for a lot, and vitally, so does imagination. Then you need to write as fast and prolifically as a political correspondent at the peak of a campaign, always keeping the sense of personal contact. Heck it’s so easy, anybody can do it.
And finally Eric, do you believe in an afterlife?
Well, after all this, there better be one! Yet I believe in this life more than any other and I know we have a purpose for being here -- humanity collectively, that is. Meanwhile, I’ve noticed that life is cyclical, based on my experience with nature and also with reincarnation. After you’ve looked at a few hundred birth charts, and then a few hundred more, you start to see that people are coming in with a story, and that story came from somewhere. I have significant memories certain of my own past lives, and I am conscious of who I was in some of them. So that addresses part of your question. I’m aware that there are parallel dimensions to our own, and we do a lot of crossing back and forth between them. I’ve heard some very moving stories of out of body experiences and near death experiences.
And an extraordinarily kind astrologer with a soft British accent sometimes whispers in my ear. The answer is yes.
Eric! Thank you so much for your time.
Book of Blue
Message to Arcati readers from Eric