Future ImperfectMadame Clairevoyant on Astrology in the Age of Trump

Every weekend, I look forward to Monday morning, because that’s when The Cut’s “Madame Clairevoyant” column comes out. The weekly astrology forecast, authored by Claire Comstock-Gay, is poetic and incantatory, but for all its gentleness of tone, it pulls no punches: You can, it says. You will. You are. Madame Clairevoyant always knows that you can—and must—do what frightens you most, and stay emotionally present in the world even when you want to do nothing more than hide your heart away forever.

This was especially true in the days following the election, and since then, “Madame Clairevoyant” continues to address the trauma of living in this political reality. “This week is for remembering,” read my first post-election horoscope.“When the night is dark or the fog seems impenetrable, there’s still a reason to try… Even when you don’t see the results right away, your actions matter.” Long before the election, when it was still published on The Rumpus, “Madame Clairevoyant” was focused less on what Jupiter would be up to this week than on helping readers to trust their intuition and access their inner resources—and to believe that their actions mattered. Today, that component of the column seems more keenly present, and more crucial, than ever. I talked with Comstock-Gay about creating political change through emotional growth, astrology as a literary form, and Cher’s star sign in Moonstruck.

“Madame Clairevoyant” has been around since 2012, right?

It’s the longest I’ve had a job. At the beginning, I was living in Brooklyn, and just had a bunch of friends there who were into astrology. I now identify as a super-Sagittarius, and I used to think I wasn’t at all, and kind of wrote off the whole thing because of that. And so it was friends, more than any resources, that got me into it to start, and to see the ways astrology can work. What I mean by that is they helped me see astrology as something more than a set of facts, [and instead] see it as something open to interpretation, something still in motion. They helped me see how much fun they had with it, and how they could interpret things about themselves, through it, that were really true.

I love that “Madame Clairevoyant”​ seems much more about inner resources than about, like, which days are good for asking for bigger assignments at work.

When I was first learning about astrology, I felt really bogged down in a lot of the horoscopes about “The 25th will be a good day for da-da-da.” As a Sagittarius, I’m not detail-oriented in that way. I want feelings. I want broader looks at the world.

Millennials seem to be embracing astrology and tarot in a new way—horoscopes seem relevant to the lives of people in their 20s in a way they weren’t 20 years ago. Do you see that happening?

I do see that trend. I don’t know if I have big-picture thoughts about why that’s happening now. I don’t imagine millennials are unique in trying to use what tools we can to understand the world, and so I don’t know why this is new. But I do see it happening. It’s interesting to see, on the internet in particular, all the different offshoots and blossomings of people using astrology. For some people it seems like more of an intellectual exercise, maybe, and I’m getting those needs met elsewhere. For me, there’s just this emotional core that’s what I’m getting from it, and hoping to give to other people.

What has it been like for you to write “Madame Clairevoyant” post-election?

It’s felt different. I mean, everything on the planet feels different now than it did before the election. That first week was super brutal, trying to write the horoscopes, because it was just like, “Okay, what am I doing writing these kind of beautiful-but-slight little pieces every week?” And so it’s felt different since then. I don’t want to say there’s more of a sense of urgency—they’re still only horoscopes—but I feel like I’ve got something to write against more now than I did before.

Did your process for writing the column change post-election?

I’m not sure if I’d say that my process has changed, but the way I look at the column has shifted. Like maybe it needs to do some slightly heavier lifting now. It’s similar to something I’d already been feeling—I worked with homeless youth in New York for a few years, and this was something I felt there too. This sense that, in the face of so much heaviness and badness and injustice, I need to write a column that earns the space it takes up in the world. You could argue [about] whether or not I achieve that, but it’s what I aspire to. It’s really important to me not to write something that I’d be ashamed of if the homeless youth at my job read it. Like, embarrassed for how corny the column can get—that’s fine. But I wouldn’t want one of those kids to read this and just feel like, “Oh, she’s out of touch with the way I live.” And so holding on to some of that also, in particular after the election, has been important.

For me, it’s important that there’s something there in addition to the mysticism of it: I want something solid, in the sense of being connected to real-world feelings. My project, in a lot of ways, is just about looking at people’s feelings and trying to dig into what those emotional landscapes and realities are like. And the election is kicking up a lot of intense feelings in different ways for a lot of us.

It seems to me that there’s been, for many people, an increased sense of emotional openness post-election. Do you see that as well?

I do. With my family, even, the way we talk to each other since the election, and at my job. I think there’s a lot of openness at this point. And so what are we going to do with that? How are we going to process those feelings? Which way are we going to go?

Has the kind of reader response you get changed?

It has shifted a little bit, though I’m hesitant to say how. There’s something a bit magical to me about the way readers respond to my horoscopes—there’s an intensity in the connection. Like there’s some kind of chemical reaction that I’m not entirely in control of. Anyway, I think the response has shifted a little bit with all this intense political and emotional change going on, and all this uncertainty. In a world that’s suddenly, for many people, become much darker than it was, the need for hope suddenly becomes that much greater.

I think a lot of people are feeling this kind of strange and scary openness to the whole world right now. And the good part of this is an increased openness and desire to become active in the world, and in their communities, in new ways. For many people, that kind of activism is a new thing, and it can be exhausting, and hard, slow work. And to need, in a real way, in their real lives, a sense of hope or a sense of possibility, is a newer thing for people.

Do you feel you can help readers grow more comfortable with community activism through “Madame Clairevoyant?”

I mean, I wouldn’t want to take credit for helping readers grow more comfortable with activism. There are others who do that work, and who have been doing it since long before the election. I’m still working on growing comfortable with community activism myself. If anything, what I’d hope would be for “Madame Clairevoyant” to be a source of comfort and energy for readers trying to become involved in activism, but facing stress or burnout or fear. 

For myself, more than I’ve been involved in activism, I’ve worked in direct service, social work-type jobs. Part of what that’s meant for me is a commitment to doing good work for real people in the world, people living in poverty, or people experiencing homelessness–it’s interesting, now, to imagine ways they might converge.

It seems both possible that our post-election sentiment could burn out, and that this political moment could have unique staying power because of its deep emotional effect on people.

We can’t sustain this kind of grief forever. Humans aren’t set up to live that way. What I’m hoping, and what I’m trying to do with the horoscopes since then, is to set up a place where we can keep a big imagination about the future—a serious imagination about a world that would be actually good, in a bigger way even than political realities of the last eight years allow. We can imagine bigger and better things for our world, and I want us not to lose sight of that as things get sadder and stranger.

What effect does writing “Madame Clairevoyant” have on your other writing?

It’s been interesting. Before I started writing “Madame Clairevoyant,” I don’t know that I would have even thought of myself as a writer. I was 100 percent a reader, more than anything else. And then I started writing these, and just starting to do this was an interesting doorway into writing for me.

I work full-time, and so time-wise, it’s hard. But I feel like it keeps me limber. And I don’t see so much of a connection between the way I write horoscopes and the way I write fiction, which is most of the other writing that I do. But just to have words on the page every week, and different thoughts about the way people feel every week, is a good exercise.

Does it have an effect on you to occupy the “Madame Clairevoyant” voice weekly?

Absolutely. It’s an interesting thing. While I was working with homeless youth, my work voice and my writing voice were so much the same: just trying to be really kind and really good to people during the day, and then going home and trying to be really kind and really good to these strangers who were reading my work. At that point, that was a weirdly really draining thing, to be giving so much of myself all the time. I’m in a much less draining day job now, and so it feels much better to get into the “Madame Clairevoyant” voice every week.

You’re a big fan of the film Moonstruck. If you were to assign a sun sign to the characters played by Cher and Nicolas Cage, what would they be?

I think that Nicolas Cage’s character is a Pisces. Pisces is a really misunderstood sign: It’s got a bad reputation for being kind of weepy and watery, when really it’s a weirder sign than that—and that bit where he kisses Cher’s hand is the most Pisces thing in the entire world. I think he’s very open to the world, and very open to feeling all sorts of ways in the world. I don’t know about Cher. Her character might be a Capricorn. I also think Capricorn is kind of [a] misunderstood sign. She’s an accountant, she’s really striving toward this orderly life, she wants to do the right thing and she wants to marry the stable man and she wants to be stable and right. And then she’s got, probably, something else in her chart that’s maybe wilder, and needs something more than that. And that’s her journey.

Do you ever feel Madame Clairevoyant appear when you’re not Madame Clairevoyant-ing intentionally?

Yeah. [Laughs.] I think it does. I catch myself being a little flowery and rhythmic.

by Sarah Marshall
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I like sandwich-centric traveling and writing about legal issues and the dancing that happens at the very end of parties and you. One time, I married the sea.

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