Written in the stars: an interview with Susan Miller

A bubble of laughter ripples across the phone line as Susan Miller consults a lunar calendar. I must meet her at her apartment the following day before the moon travels “Void of Course” at 6.13pm. “That’s when the moon gets terrible,” the queen of the AstrologyZone media empire reveals, explaining how every couple of days it rotates between astrological signs, sparking periods of chaos and disruption. “Everything you write will just disappear.”

Miller then directs me to her Manhattan home, insisting that I arrive between 1.30pm and 1.45pm. Wait any longer and navigating the city’s transportation system could prove difficult. “It is such a good day for us to be talking,” she says. “Mars (ruler of energy, strength and action) and Jupiter (ruler of good fortune and financial gain) are in such a beautiful angle.”

As founder of AstrologyZone.com (launched in 1995) and author of nine books, Miller has transformed the art of astrology. Millions across the globe follow her interpretation of the stars on the website and her mobile phone apps have been downloaded more than 2.5 million times. She greets me sporting a navy blue shift dress, diamonds and bright red lips. (As Miller predicted, the subways ran remarkably smoothly.) “We’re going to have so much fun,” she gushes.

A friend recommended Miller’s AstrologyZone to me years ago, noting the surprising accuracy (!) of her readings. Aside from perusing horoscopes with amusement whenever I happened upon them, I’d never given astrology much thought. So I was sceptical when I made my first visit to Miller’s site.

But I too was struck by the level of accuracy. Miller predicted a “jarring” and “unsettling” period when my brother recently passed away, stating that my parents would rely on my help and sympathy. She forecast last May as a “glorious month”, especially for my career. That was the month I started a new job at the FT. If I listen to her advice on the best days for interviews, travel and dates, they always seem to have an extra sparkle.

Now, on the first day of each month, I open the AstrologyZone app before I’ve fully opened my eyes. I read her 2,500-word horoscope, often adding the luckiest and most romantic dates she notes to my calendar. The empathetically written predictions are like a correspondence from a dear aunt.

Many dismiss astrology as a mystical practice that lacks scientific grounding. Sceptics cite the 1948 study from psychologist Bertram Forer, who gave his students a personality test then provided them with what they thought was an individual analysis. The students rated the analysis as highly accurate, but Forer had given the same one – created by combining horoscopes – to each student.

While writing this piece I’ve raised plenty of eyebrows among co-workers and friends, who no doubt wonder if I’ve gone a bit kooky. Perhaps. But I’m not the only one with an addiction. During a recent dinner with a gaggle of professional New York City women, several sheepishly revealed their AstrologyZone habits – then buzzed with excitement on learning they weren’t alone.

Twitter lights up with chatter from Miller’s 130,000-plus followers when she releases her forecasts. Her international audience includes celebrities, the fashion elite and even Wall Street types. “Businessmen love it,” she says, noting that rulers from Alexander the Great onwards searched for understanding in the stars. Miller also writes horoscopes for Elle magazine in the US and Hong Kong and Vogue in Japan, among others. She has appeared on CNN and CNBC, for luxury brands including Dior, Clarins and Chopard – and even at the opening of the Trump residence in Istanbul.

Miller admits she isn’t a psychic and that the 12 sun signs used in western astrology are a simple interpretation of the practice: “We’ve all been to parties where people say, ‘Oh, you’re a Scorpio, oh, you’re a Virgo,’ or whatever it is. It doesn’t really matter. I call that racial profiling. It’s terrible,” she says. “Every person’s an individual ... You’re a beautiful soup of many different planets and that combination created you.”

She says that people tend not to believe in astrology until they have studied it. “An astrologer can’t tell you to marry the man or not to marry the man or to take the job or not take the job ... I can give you the timing, and I can give you the questions to ask, but in the end, you’re in the driver’s seat.”

Miller never expected to make a career out of astrology. As a child, she was bedridden for long spells, suffering from excruciating pain through her left leg. Her mother, who had practised astrology for years, would read Miller’s charts, telling her what to study for school tests and that her health struggles would subside when she turned 14. The forecast proved correct, thanks to experimental surgery.

Miller eventually persuaded her mother to teach her astrology, and they embarked on 12 years of lessons in communications, philosophy and religion (Miller is a devout Catholic). But it wasn’t until she had graduated from New York University, given birth to two daughters and worked as a photography agent, that the stars aligned. Miller became friends with an executive at Time Warner’s books division and, for amusement, would read her astrological chart. Miller accurately predicted surgery and unexpected apartment moves, also forecasting that buying a lottery ticket would result in a big win. The executive dismissed it, but bought a raffle ticket and won a Porsche.

This led to a book deal and an appointment with the head of Time Warner’s internet portal. During the meeting, Miller pitched monthly online horoscopes and recounted how she had once asked her mother what she would be when she grew up. Her mother responded that when Miller was about 40 she would make her mark with a newly invented form of communication that runs on electricity. “Don’t you see this is my destiny?” Miller recalls asking the executive. “He goes, ‘We’re not going to stand in your way. You can do anything you want to do. You are so passionate.’”

And thus AstrologyZone came into the universe. In September 2001, Miller struck out on her own. While she employs various contractors, she writes all of the 430,000 words that she publishes each year. Her media operation costs about $400,000 a year and is profitable via subscriptions, ads and promotions. But while she lives comfortably, Miller insists she isn’t “rolling in the dough”.

During a recent news report, Miller started screaming at the TV. The current US budget expires on March 27, the day of a “very monstrous full moon,” she says. “This is horrible. Oh what a bloody fight. I wish they would change that day.” She opens up an astrological chart that maps out hard angles between the Sun, Uranus, the ruler of chaos, Pluto, the ruler of transformation, and Jupiter, the ruler of good fortune and financial gain.

The year 2013 contains a series of these intense pressure points, Miller says – one in early July and another at the beginning of October. She recommends people stay close to home and avoid making serious financial commitments. The Christmas holiday will be trying. “Anger. Anger. Difficult,” she says, her eyes widening. “I’ve rarely seen anything like this.” But she also tries to highlight the good along with the bad. A “grand water trine” starting in June will unveil a period of good fortune. “It’s a gift,” she says. “We haven’t had anything special like this in years ... ”

Miller also sees broad signs that the economy is continuing its slow recovery. Not only are the planets starting to fall into line but her followers are asking her more questions about love than employment. “I see a definite turn,” she says. “If they’re interested in love, that means the economy is getting better.” As for her own future, Miller hopes to go into television.

Hours after I left her apartment, Miller suffered a bad break to her left wrist and was rushed to hospital for surgery. The doctors found that she was also suffering from pneumonia. I call her the following week to see how she is recovering and ask whether she predicted the health trouble. Miller tells me to look at the January forecast she wrote for Gemini, her rising sign. In it, she predicted that a grouping of planets would fill Gemini’s eighth house, which rules money, surgery and death. “Planets in Capricorn point to surgery on the knees, a bone, skin, or eyes, or regarding dental procedures, a good time to do so,” she had written.

Emily Steel is the FT’s US media and marketing correspondent

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