The Cut’s Madame Clairevoyant recommends five books that will alter your perceptions of astrology
Self-taught astrologer Claire Comstock-Gay on intuition, skepticism, and how horoscopes can offer a liberatory escape from the stresses of contemporary society.
“My sun sign is Sagittarius which is said to mean, very broadly, that I’m curious, spontaneous, smart and optimistic, but also sloppy, reliable, and often too blunt,” says Claire Comstock-Gay, who is better known to many as the weekly astrology columnist Madame Clairevoyant for The Cut. “I really do think a lot of this describes me pretty well, though I didn’t always think so,” she continues, explaining how when she first learned about astrology as a “deeply shy and weird” teenager, she found it hard to identify herself with words like spontaneous. “It was only when I learned that everyone doesn’t only have a sun sign, but also a moon sign, rising sign, and so on, that I could put the pieces together and see a more accurate picture of myself.”
Despite her childhood interest in astrology, Comstock-Gay has never trained professionally in the medium. She studied Russian Literature at a small college in Iowa before moving to New York, where she initially worked in a variety of low paying jobs to support her fiction writing. It wasn’t until her friend asked her to write horoscopes for the Tumblr account of literary journal The Rumpus that she began to interweave her interest in astrology with her career. “After writing there for a few years I moved to an incredible website called The Toast. When they stopped publishing in 2016, an editor from The Cut got in touch. I’ve been writing for them ever since, even though I no longer live in New York.”
Comstock-Gay picked up a lot of information on astrology through social osmosis, and in the beginning, relied entirely on intuition to inform her horoscopes. “I’d call to mind every Pisces I knew, and think about what they were going through at that time,” Comstock-Gay explains. “From all these different experiences I’d try to triangulate some kind of message that would be resonant and useful to them.” These early horoscopes made Comstock-Gay aware that she was somewhat of an outsider in the astrology community, and that she was working very differently to people who had been reading the stars for decades. “My process has evolved since then, and I’m looking much more at the actual astrological transits to inform the horoscopes,” she explains. “But what remains the same is that I’m really uninterested in writing practical advice and predictions. Plenty of astrologers do that really well, but my horoscopes are more heavily focused on mood, feelings, and our emotional lives.”
“Astrology can offer a different way to imagine ourselves and our place in the world.”
Horoscopes are often dismissed by skeptics as frivolous or a waste of time, but Comstock-Gay has noticed that there is, in fact, a contemporary trend of people becoming more interested in mystical thinking as a way to answer the questions science can’t. “Between climate change, quickly increasing economic inequality, and the global resurgence of fascism, the world can feel scary and the future uncertain. Young people, in particular, are increasingly distrustful of the systems that have gotten us here,” she explains. So while it might not replace going to the doctor or reading a weather report, “astrology can offer a different way to imagine ourselves and our place in the world.”
Comstock-Gay, however, isn’t interested in “converting” people into believing in it if they don’t want to. “It’s 100% fine if you don’t need it or it isn’t your thing!” she says, explaining that for many people, poetry, religion, or a really good therapist offer similar comforts or insights. That being said, she does feel that a lot of people who are cynical about the medium are working off an outdated idea of what astrology is all about. “They imagine astrologers to be unyielding prescriptivists who don’t believe in choice or free will,” she says, saying that in actuality, very few contemporary practitioners think that the stars determine everything about you or your future. “It’s more human than people sometimes imagine, and more of an interpretive tool than a bossy book of rules.”
Five eye-opening books about astrology with Claire Comstock-Gay
Ghostly Matters by Avery Gordon “This might seem like a weird choice to start out with. It’s a work of critical theory focused on ghosts and doesn’t deal with astrology at all, but it really influenced my own thinking about the imaginative and intellectual possibilities available to us when we think about magic and the occult. Avery Gordon is a deeply rigorous thinker and opened up space for me to think seriously about ideas that exist beyond what is accepted, scientific, and provable.”
Caliban and the Witch by Silvia Federici
“This book also only mentions astrology a few times, but it has absolutely shaped my thinking about its potential. It’s a rigorous historical analysis of the witch hunts in Europe and the Americas, and it explores how traditional forms of knowledge have been supplanted by the rise of science and capitalism. The historical narrative that most of us are familiar with is that traditional forms of knowledge—magic, herbalism, astrology—gently faded away once the Enlightenment arrived on the scene. Federici instead argues that they didn’t naturally wither, but were violently suppressed because of the threat they posed to Europe’s burgeoning capitalist order.”
Gala Mukomolova’s astrology writing
“Poet Gala Mukomolova is one of my favorite contemporary astrology writers. I love her “Ask A…” series for Nylon where she talks to people with the same sun sign about how they relate to it. The conversations are lovely, real-world examples of people using astrology as a reflective practice. I often get the sense that skeptics think of astrology enthusiasts as credulous, naïve, and willing to uncritically accept whatever they read in a horoscope. This series, though, offers a model that feels much closer to what I see in real life. Nobody, even—maybe especially—serious astrology enthusiasts, ever identifies wholeheartedly with what they read their sign’s supposed to be about.”
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton “This Booker Prize-winning novel is entirely structured around astrology. It’s like nothing else I’ve seen in literary fiction. The book is set in and revolves around the New Zealand gold rush of the 1860s. Each of the characters represents one of the planets or astrological signs—while still managing to make them feel like people, not symbols or archetypes—and each of the story’s locations represents one of the twelve astrological houses. In addition to just being a good novel, I love how seriously it engages with the fact that astrology is all about movement. Rather than determining our personalities and then leaving us alone, the stars and planets are constantly in motion, constantly telling us stories.”
Astrology for Yourself by Demetra George and Douglas Bloch
I’ll end, finally, with an actual introductory astrology book. If you’re hostile to astrology or think it’s a waste of time, this one’s unlikely to change your mind. But if, on the other hand, you’re interested but having a hard time sorting through all of astrology’s different moving pieces, I found this one a really great book to learn with. It’s really excellent at expressing a complicated system with simplicity and clarity, making astrology seem more like a balanced, elegant puzzle, and less like lists of random personality traits.”
Claire Comstock-Gay is a writer currently based in L.A. Best known for the weekly horoscopes she writes for New York-based publication The Cut under the name Madame Clairevoyant, she also writes fiction and short stories which have appeared in Necessary Fiction, Two Serious Ladies, and Atticus Review.
This interview was produced as part of our series In a Nutshell. Head over to read more articles where creatives around the world talk us through objects that inspire their work.
Text: Emily May