Twenty-two floors closer to the celestial heavens than the tarmac of East 76th Street, in the Royal Suite of the Carlyle, a Rosewood Hotel in New York, Susan Miller is waiting in a tastefully appointed living room. On the shelves are books no one reads. Past the window panes are views of Central Park. And on the sofa is Miller, one of the world’s most popular astrologers.
Her fans are legion and enthusiastic, bordering adulatory. They span the world, with large pockets that can be found in Turkey, Brazil, China, Canada, India, and the United States. They can read what the heavens have in store for them in any one of the many, many titles for which Miller writes: Elle in the U.S., Vogue in Japan, W in Korea, Tempo in Turkey, Claudia in Brazil, S Moda in Spain, and many others. She is believed by many to be uniquely capable of relaying the universe’s plan as applicable to individual human lives. Miller is credited for helping astrology shed its hokey reputation and reinvent itself as relevant, reputable, and cool. Securing a private audience with Miller is an experience which, it seems safe to say, her myriad of fans would envy.
Miller boasts six million visitors to her website a month, with 51 per cent coming from outside the United States. Strangely, she is quite popular in China—a culture with its own distinct astrological tradition—where there are 66,000 clubs devoted to dissecting Miller’s horoscopes on a weekly basis. “They call me Mom Susan,” says Miller, “which is sweet.”
Her appeal cuts across space, time, and demographics. Activity on her Twitter feed unrolls as the planet spins: first America, then Brazil, then Turkey, then China, and finally Japan. Miller also has appeared on cruise ships, like the Costa Victoria. Her new app was one of the top five grossing apps for 26 weeks in Apple’s iTunes Store. She has worked with Deepak Chopra on her Year Ahead 2016 online videos (available for purchase), while her Astrology Zone The Show web series, which celebrated its one-year anniversary this February, streams for free and saw its viewership numbers reach over 1-million. Her millennial game is strong, too. A few days after I meet her, she’ll be flying off to Miami to give a speech at the Standard Spa, alongside crafters, paddle boarders, and a DJ.
Miller is as exuberant in person as she is prolific in print. By her own estimate, she writes a torrent of 48,000 words a month for her Astrology Zone website (which just turned 20 years old) alone, a yearly pace one of her many profilers described as the “equivalent (in sheer volume) to writing Ulysses and Lolita in the same year.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is no rest for Miller, who sleeps only five hours a night. “I used to be a morning person,” she says with a delighted laugh. “Now I’m a morning and night person.” One-on-one, she’s as loquacious, chatty, and relatable as she comes across in her columns. For an astrology outsider, like me, her talk of houses and aspects, her attribution of personality traits to planetary position, is dizzying. Shortly after sitting down, I ask her something about energy, like, “What is it that powers astrology?” She responds: “Well, if Mars is opposed to Uranus, Uranus is unexpected happenings or surprises, and Mars is force and energy and he’s the booster rocket to all things, like getting the big rocket into space and then he falls away. He also is the planet you need behind you in a competitive sport or launching a new product.”
I nod and wonder whether the universe really cares about whether I launch a new product or not. But an unavoidable part of Miller’s appeal, and what endears her to her many fans, is how personable and approachable she renders the cosmic.
Perhaps nowhere is Miller’s presence more strongly felt than amongst the fashion set, whose young, culturally-literate denizens love her with the same fresh passion they seem to exhibit towards all things New Age: clean nutrition, SoulCycle, purified crystals of honey calcite, the list goes on. She regularly contributes to the blog for Neiman Marcus writing horoscopes, and stages appearances for everyone from Chanel and Calypso to Saks Fifth Avenue and Furla. She’s an ambassador for Fresh beauty, for whom she developed a limited-edition Zodiac Oval Soap Collection. Her latest calendar—The Year Ahead 2016—includes specially commissioned illustrations by Izak Zenou, most famous for his perky watercolours for Henri Bendel. Indeed, the kids love her—likely because (contrary to what astronomers will tell you about their already being dead and such) the stars have youth on their side.
By her own estimate, Miller writes a torrent of 48,000 words a month for her website alone, a yearly pace one of her many profilers described as the “equivalent (in sheer volume) to writing Ulysses and Lolita in the same year.”
To some extent, Miller is benefiting from the golden age of the Age of Aquarius. According to the Science and Education Indicator study, belief in astrology—at least among Americans—as scientifically credible is growing, especially among 18 to 25 year olds. Though the majority of Americans—65 per cent in 2014—view astrology as “not at all scientific,” only 48 per cent of 18 to 25 year olds do. Some have attributed this rise of belief in the occult to the combination of economic uncertainty and a lack of religiosity that defines many millennials. According to a 2012 Pew Research Center poll on religion and public life, a third of Americans under 30 are religiously unaffiliated, the highest percentage recorded.
At the same time, as a report by the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers notes, “Their [millenials] early adult lives have been shaped by the experience of establishing their careers at a time when economic opportunities are relatively scarce.” As Brooklyn Occult Humanities Conference co-organizer Pamela Grossman commented in a Newsweek article called “Hexing and Texting”: “You have all these people who are disillusioned with big institutions—religions, corporations, big money—who want to connect to a larger meaning. Now, they have ancient practices that were once hard to access at their fingertips.”
Miller has mixed emotions about the spiritual fervency with which her word is adhered to. “A woman recently told me that astrology was her religion,” she says, turning serious for a moment, “and I almost fell off my chair. I said, ‘That hurts my feelings.’ ” Miller is a devout Roman Catholic and sees this misconception as one of the big dangerous surrounding astrology. “Astrology is no replacement for religion. Many millennials make that mistake.”
Miller comes across less like a Grace Coddington, fashion’s similarly oracular voice, and more like Sally Field at her most maternal. Miller has, undoubtedly, led an interesting life. She’s the rare second-generation astrologer. Miller’s mother, the youngest of five, was raised in Ellenville—a tiny town in the Catskills—and took up astrology in the 1950s. “The family was poor. My grandfather couldn’t find work,” recalls Miller. “My mother had one dress and rickets.” Miller’s mother had moved to New York to work as a governess, hoping to send money home, when her eldest sister suggested that they keep in touch by studying something. Astrology was the recommendation. “My mother, being a Gemini, thought, ‘That’s a great idea.’ ”
By the time Miller was born, her mother had completed her astrological training, via a correspondence course with the famed Rosicrucian Fellowship of Oceanside, California, a mystic religion founded by 19th-century Danish-American Christian occultist Max Heindel. “Astrology wasn’t accepted then,” says Miller, “so my mother didn’t talk about it that much, but she was very well educated in astrology.”
Miller holds her mother in extreme reverence. She calls her “Little Mom”, and has written thousands of words about her, often referencing her in horoscopes. And, like her mother’s Catskills childhood, Miller’s early years also had many challenges and complications.
The young Miller suffered from an undiagnosed illness which rendered her bed-ridden for extended periods of time during her youth. Miller alternated spending her time enjoying lazy afternoons with her younger sister, Janet, on the stoop in front of her father’s imported Italian specialities grocery store on the Upper East Side and, when her attacks hit, alone in sun-steeped hospital rooms. “I had no friends,” Miller says, “but it made me become very philosophical.”
Miller was kept company during these long stretches by her mother and by classic books. Since she couldn’t go to school, books were her teachers. “My mother would go to the library and ask the librarian what a girl my age should be reading,” recalls Miller, “then she’d come home with a stack. I always remember that line from Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms: ‘The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong at the broken places.’ That was me.”
“Astrology told my mother that the mystery of my illness would not be solved until I was 14,” she says, and, true enough, when she turned 14, “doctors found the problem was severe malformation of my veins and arteries that would simply turn to tissue paper and cause massive internal bleeding spontaneously from time to time. Something as simple as being excited about my birthday or Christmas would set it off. There are only 47 cases on record—I am the only person to survive surgery, for it is so treacherous.”
Miller’s mother acquiesced to her constant pleas and began to impart unto her the teachings of the Rosicrucians. It was a 12-year journey. Miller, mère et fille, pored over the circular astrological charts, mapping the planets by hand, now an almost extinct practice. Miller became proficient in many types of astrology, including the horary, which allows astrologers to answer specific questions by constructing a horoscope for the exact time at which the question was received and understood by the astrologer.
Miller continued to study with her mother even as she attended NYU, where she earned a degree in business. She began work as a commercial photography agent. “Whether you’re looking at a chart or you’re looking at a Polaroid, it’s the same right brain,” she says. “When I do a chart, I’m looking for a pattern in the sky. In photography, everybody has a world view. They either see things in circles, squares, rectangles, or S shapes. I’m definitely a square.”
Miller remembers that as a young girl, when she would ask her mother what she was going to be when she grew up, her mother would reply, “When you get into your late 30s, some newly invented form of communication, so new we don’t know the name of it yet, will change the way you work.” This new channel, predicted her mother, would be the one in which Miller would make her ultimate contribution. “She was telling me about the Internet!” Miller exclaims.
And in December of 1995, her mother’s prognostication came true. After befriending a creative director at Warner Books, she landed Astrology Zone, one of the first microsites with Time Warner’s newfangled Internet portal, Pathfinder. Within the first five months, it had one million clicks. Finally, she had found her destiny.
It is a destiny that is not without price. Those early illnesses never fully left Miller. “I’ve had 40 blood transfusions in my life,” she says. She has been constantly dogged by ill health. Famously, in the summer of 2014, after another mysterious illness delayed her horoscopes, Miller’s fans went insane. Factions formed: according to one article in The Atlantic, the Susanistas felt abandoned by Miller and accused her of using her illness for profit, while the Millaniacs staunchly defended her Herculean output. Even today, she works through ailments. “Ulcers,” she says, for which Miller is taking medicine, which has not yet started to work. “My aspects are really bad until February 1st,” she says, “so I’m just trying to hang on until then.”
Miller doesn’t just offer guidance. She’s not just your friend’s chatty mother, an endless engine of advice. She offers the possibility that the universe cares about you.
Today, Miller doesn’t often do individual charts, though when she does, the fee varies dependant on the time spent and the intricacy of the reading. “I just don’t have the time,” she says, and I believe her. But still, she has agreed to do mine. She pulls out her laptop and opens it to a professional astrologer program called Io Edition. An astrology chart appears on the screen—and it’s the first time I’ve seen one. “This chart is unique,” says Miller. “It has never existed in the history of time and it will never exist again in the future.”
The chart itself consists of a series of concentric circles divided into 12 segments. These are houses, Miller explains. Using my birthdate and location, Miller has graciously pre-populated my chart with squiggles. These, she says, are the signs. My signs are mostly grouped in the upper left, above what she calls the horizon. “Come closer,” she says, so we scrunch together in the middle of the couch.
“See this,” she says, pointing to the screen. “The sun is at the highest place that it could possibly be in the chart. This is where you shine in your career. You will be well known and you will come before the public, and you will be known for your writing.” She points into another segment. “It’s Uranus trying Mars. Wow, you not only are brilliant, because this is the sign of genius, but you make money.”
Peering into my seventh house, the house of marriage, Miller tells me, “You got the right one!” and asks what my wife did before we met. “Was she in real estate, textiles, art, design, perfumes, spas, cosmetics?” (She was in business intelligence.)
But it’s hard not to be charmed by Miller or chuffed that the heavens hold me in such high esteem. I may not understand 90 per cent of what she says but my ears do prick up for compliments. Brilliant, Genius, Money: I can see now why Miller is so popular, why over 6 million visitors read her 48,000 words a month, form clubs to dissect her writing, buy calendars, buy books, go to seminars, hang on her every prolific word.
Miller doesn’t just offer guidance. She’s not just your friend’s chatty mother, an endless engine of advice. She offers the possibility that the universe cares about you, that there is a cosmic interest in what your wife did before she met you or about when the right time is to file taxes or launch a new product. And if this comes girded in the jargon of science, well, that’s all the better. The universe must care because Saturn is in the house of Uranus.
Miller didn’t make a believer out of me. But plunging down the elevator shaft to ground level, heading into the uncharted streets of New York, it feels good that she is up there, in her Royal Suite so high above me, connecting my life with the path of the stars. And that wherever I am and whenever I want, I can find Susan Miller and her Astrology Zone.