Devoted readers of "Free Will Astrology" (found in the back of this very newspaper) already know Rob Brezsny to be a man comfortable with the outer reaches of inner space. Whether he's advising Aries to try tantric sex or recommending Albert Camus to Pisces, Brezsny has perfected the art of the intelligent astrology column. Now carried in more than 100 alternative publications nationwide, "Free Will Astrology" (formerly "Real Astrology") happily reinvents the tired construct of newspaper horoscopes with a ready wit, interpretations of pop cultural references and eclectic spiritual references from the Bible to the Kabbalah.
But while Brezsny also has a knack for making readers squirm with a heady mix of well-aimed lecturing and frequent new age feminist sexual references, he initially found himself ducking the call of writing a novel on such subjects. Brezsny is currently touring the country in support of his new book, The Televisionary Oracle.
"I thought I was going to write primarily about media issues. I thought maybe the novel I would write would be more of a philosophical novel in the manner of Robert Anton Wilson," says Brezsny from his home north of San Francisco. "But my muses had a notion that I should be writing about my experiences as a lusty feminist man, the subject of menstruation and other subjects that were taboo for a man to write about. I really resisted it at first, but at that point I had left the music business two years previously and my ego was hungry to produce another artistic artifact."
In The Televisionary Oracle, an aging rock star is kidnapped by the Menstrual Temple of the Funky Grail, which hopes to initiate a handful of men into the mysteries of women in order to dismantle the notion of "apocalypse." In terms of writing fiction, it was something like Star Trek's "final frontier" where Brezsny had to confront his own cultural squeamishness about feminist power and female biology in order to go, in the sense of the novel, where "no man had gone before."
"I found that the prospect of writing from what I was ashamed about was so juicy and it brought such a flow of material that I quickly saw the wisdom of doing that," Brezsny explains. "And by writing from my shame I mean that I had long cultivated myself as a feminist man and yet I still had this reservoir of ordinary male lusty heterosexual feelings and they didn't seem to jive. The book was an attempt to integrate those two."
Bringing together seemingly disparate elements is both the cornerstone of Brezsny's work and part of the impetus that led him to becoming an astrologer in the first place.
"When I was a teenager, my left brain dominated everything that I did. I was good at school, I always got straight As and used that analytical logical side of my brain in a way that I think would have doomed me to being an alcoholic," laughs Brezsny. "Fortunately, I discovered two subjects that freed me from that, and those were rock music and astrology."
Brezsny went to Duke University for two years and then followed what he calls "the demands of my right brain" by attending Goddard College, where he studied with David Mamet and met fellow student William H. Macy. The college was so experimental that Brezsny says it came close to losing its accreditation in the mid '80s, but it also introduced him to the many threads of thought that now influence "Free Will Astrology."
"One of the things that you'll come across in the book is the idea that St. Paul formulated as 'I die daily,' " says Brezsny. "In other words, to initiate the little deaths in one's life that shed the outworn, that shed the schticks that one has depended on in order to avoid the bigger deaths that come, when you have the dark goddess sneaking up and biting you on the ass, which especially happens if you don't do the work of killing off the outworn portions of your life."
In March, Brezsny took "Real Astrology" and renamed it "Free Will Astrology." His reasons for doing so reflect his views on astrology as the art of personal evolution.
"For me, it really invigorated my sense of mission that I want to give this astrology to people in a way that does not shut down their free will, does not convince them that the stars control their fate," says Brezsny. "It was a way to recommit myself to that teaching that astrology should open up the imagination, not shut down your willpower."
The Televisionary Oracle is available at independent bookstores or by calling Frog, Ltd., at (510) 559-8272.