Matrix Interview with Astrologer Maria Kay Simms
Our interviewer is Michael Erlewine February 24, 2009
Interview with Maria Kay Simms
Erlewine: How did you get interested in astrology?
Simms: I barely knew what my Sun sign was until the age of 33. Prior to then, I remember only one thing. I was 21, recently graduated from college (fine arts degree) and soon to marry. My mother gave me a plaque — the type used as a holder for hot dishes, wood with a ceramic tile inside—with the comment, “It fits you.” On the tile was a cartoon of a scorpion wearing a beret, holding a palette and brush and standing in front of an easel. A written caption said ”Scorpio” with the birthday range for the sign, and a little verse:
Scorpios are very busy
Just to watch them makes you dizzy.
Ask them what they do it for,
And you will only make them sore.
That was my initial introduction to astrology. It didn’t take then, though I remember the tile and the verse.
Much later, during the first half of the 70s, I was in San Francisco with husband, Dan, and our two daughters, aged 3 and 5. I was active as an exhibiting artist in 3 galleries and was also doing some commercial art assignments, which included my first book, published by Troubadour Press in 1971, and called Fashion Kit. (It was an art project book for young girls that included a paper doll and encouraged creativity through fashion design.) Dan was under contract with San Francisco Opera’s touring group, Western Opera Theater, and was also singing support roles with the main company.
During 1973, I had a series of experiences involving astrology that ultimately propelled me into not only studying it, but also becoming a specialist in Uranian and Cosmobiology techniques, right from the start.
Experience #1 was mild interest when I sat in on an astrology reading for Dan that he won at a fundraising event. I was favorably impressed with what Darlene, the astrologer, appeared to know about him. But at that time, I thought no more about it, as I busily got the family ready to travel to Central City where Dan was to perform Bartolo in Barber of Seville.
Experience #2 came with what I could describe as a psychic shock when I met Mark, who was to be the Figaro. It was as if I’d known this man forever, which was very confusing, when I knew I’d never met him before. The feeling intensified when I saw him on stage the next day in vastly aged costume as Falstaff. I kept all this to myself until the final day there, when in a short conversation with him, I expressed my confusion and he told me to study astrology, and all would become clear. I’d had no prior experience with things metaphysical then, but later, through dreams, astrology and learning more about the nature of psychic recognition and past lives, I think that he may have been my father and at other times, my teacher.
When we returned to San Francisco, I asked Darlene if she would read my chart. She did and immediately asked what had happened to me in early July— that it must have been a dramatic, life-changing experience. She said there had been a total solar eclipse June 30, closely conjunct my Moon and exactly square my nodal axis. I said that I thought perhaps she should teach me something about astrology. So, she taught me how to calculate a chart, with logarithms—me, who was (still is) math-phobic.
After that, I calculated and studied charts on my own, as I tried to puzzle out what was going on in my life. While Dan was touring, I worked alone most nights from when the kids went to bed until the wee hours of the morning. Despite the strange experience that led me to this study, I still felt offended at the idea that my life might be somehow fated beyond my personal control. So, at first I studied astrology with the determination to prove it would not work. Instead, I found more and more connections that were undeniable.
Because Mark had also told me he’d studied Uranian Astrology, I acquired the only two Uranian books I could find: a small introductory booklet by Svela, and the large ditto machine produced Hans Niggemann “Key to Planetary Pictures.” The Svela book told me a little about Uranian, but not how to do it. The “Key,” taken alone with no instruction of how to use it, was incomprehensible. When I could find no other Uranian books, I wrote to Niggemann at the New York address printed in his book, and he sent me a box of his other books and some cardboard dials. With these, plus aid received in a series of strange dreams, some of which included planetary pictures, I managed to learn to use Uranian and the 360° dial. Later, I learned to use the 90° dial and gained an easier understanding of the system through also studying the Ebertin books on Cosmobiology. (Astrological correspondence: Neptune was transiting conjunct my Ascendant for several months during this time.)
In November, we hosted a Thanksgiving gathering for the opera support cast. While cleaning up after dinner, I noticed that Carl, a cast member and psychic, had begun reading palms in my living room. So, later I went in there, stuck out my hand, and said, “My turn.” My paintings were all over the walls, so his saying anything about art for me would have been a no-brainer, but nobody except Dan knew anything about my study of astrology, and at that point, even he didn’t know how intensely I’d been studying. Carl, looking at my palms, said there was something else that was major there, not the art, and “was I involved with anything metaphysical?” I replied that I’d studied “a little astrology recently.” He said that was it, and that in the future, I would become internationally known as an astrologer. I laughed at what then seemed a ridiculous idea.
Carl was in town for a few more weeks, and during that time he told me quite a lot about the Edgar Cayce materials on past lives, to help me understand my prior experience with Mark and the strange dreams I’d been having.
Toward the end of 1974 we moved to lower Connecticut, where Dan was in commuting distance to New York City, and in early ‘75, I saw Mark again. At that time he told me that when he had studied astrology, it had been with Charles Emerson. He said there was to be an NCGR conference in a few weeks, and that I should go to it, look for Charles at the registration desk, and “tell him I sent you.” Charles immediately took me “under his wing” such that I was commuting to New York once weekly to study with him. He also urged me to start an NCGR chapter in Connecticut, which I eventually did… and so it continued.
Erlewine: What about Teachers, mentors, influences:
Simms:Charles Emerson was my first major mentor, as my teacher, but perhaps even more so, as my introduction to NCGR. Later, within NCGR, Mary Downing was also a mentor when she recruited me to assist her with NCGR publications. She taught me skills that led to my being NCGR Publications Director for years, and spearheaded our switch to producing publications with Mac computers.. This led to my ability to handle an art production job in Florida, and later, my position as Art Director for ACS Publications. Joan Negus and Joanna Shannon were also highly influential during the years I served on their NCGR Education committee during our development of the first NCGR testing program.
Past my initial focus on Uranian Astrology, I also explored other astrological techniques, and in that, I consider Zipporah Pottenger Dobyns, PhD to have been an important mentor. I was attracted to her from the first astrology conference I attended. I liked her style, her manner and what she had to say. Other than my initial experience with Darlene, it was with Zip that I sought my first professional consultation, when she came to speak for our Connecticut NCGR chapter in the summer of 1981. I remember that she began by saying that she was a psychological astrologer and did not do predictions. But then she asked me what had happened at the beginning of March, since this was a highly significant time for me.
Near the end of 1980, I had begun trying to write about astrology, and had submitted my first article to the AFA journal, which was published in the February 1981 issue. Also, I’d decided that if I was to consider presenting myself as an astrologer, I ought to have some more appropriate credentials than my art degree. So, I took the AFA professional exam. My PMAFA certificate is dated March 5, 1981.
Zip cheerfully informed me that this was the time of my progressed New Moon, “So there! Astrology must be your primary focus for this new 30 year cycle.”
Since I was so immersed in the Uranian/Cosmobiology techniques that use solar arc, I had only barely glanced at secondary progressions prior to Zip’s influence. This consultation with Zip marked the beginning of my interest in the progressed lunar phase cycle, which I have since come to consider one of the most powerful techniques one can use to see the flow of life through developmental cycles. My most recent book, Moon Tides, Soul Passages is primarily on this topic, and I consider it to be my best writing to date.
Zip later became part of my life in other ways through close connections with her children that developed during my San Diego years, and through all the Pottengers’ connections with another highly significant relationship in my life who became my husband in 1987, but whom I also consider to have been my mentor, Neil Michelsen. Neil also thought of Zip as a major influence in his life. It was after attending one of her workshops in 1971, that he decided to begin the computer calculation of astrological charts that ultimately, in 1973, became Astro Computing Services.
Neil’s mentoring of me was not so much in regard to astrological technique, but primarily in his creating and motivating the circumstances, both during his life and following his too early death, whereby I had to stretch far beyond what I had thought myself prepared to do, or imagined I might ever have to handle.
Erlewine: Have you created any new techniques in astrology and what are they? Do others know about and use them also?
Simms:There’s no technique I’ve created that can be considered entirely new, or is likely to be noted as such within the “community,” though I do feel that through my books I have made topics easier to understand. This is perhaps most obvious in my illustrated “how-to,” Dial Detective which makes Cosmobiology and Uranian Astrology much easier to learn, especially for those who must study alone. My books and classes that correlate astrology with spirituality and magic are innovative, and feedback has told me they are helpful, but they are a new “look” or method for very old concepts, rather what can fairly be called new technique.
Erlewine: What do you personally use astrology for in your life and how often do you consult it?
Simms:At this part of my life, I look at my own chart annually, at around my birthday—solar return, directions, progressions, transits—and then very seldom after that, unless something really important is happening. I look at family charts when requested to do so, and sometimes look at business charts or elections or horary at Jim’s request, or in regard to my own decisions. Other than that, I use astrology mostly as it relates to my writing or speaking—I’ve done extensive research and many charts in conjunction with writing books or preparing lectures.
Erlewine: Have you done readings for others…what techniques…how often…do you want clients…
Simms:Yes, I’ve done a lot of readings at various times over the years, but not so many recently. When I do a consultation currently, I prepare a standard natal chart, with solar arcs and with progressions, particularly the lifetime lunar phase report run from my Moon Tides, Soul Passages software. I also always look at the charts on 90° dial, though I generally don’t look at the Uranian (TNP) planets unless I am specifically requested to do a Uranian reading. I keep a copy of The New American Ephemeris, 2007-2020 at close hand to look at current transits. Then, depending on requests of the client, I may also have also prepared additional charts—business, horary, relationship, etc.
Currently, while I am open to be contacted for readings, my time to schedule them is limited due to time needed to attend to my business, which has been ramped up considerably since we acquired the ACS chart service and book titles.
Erlewine: Gatherings, conferences, etc. Social astrologer or lone wolf?
Simms:I’ve been to a lot of conferences, been a speaker at many, had a trade show booth to run in the past (with ACS) and now again more recently (at UAC 2008 and a few prior). I don’t think of myself as either a “social astrologer” or a “lone wolf.” I can be outgoing when I need to be, or when the occasion calls for it, but I am naturally somewhat of an introvert who needs plenty of time to work alone.
Erlewine: Professional connections, memberships in orgs:
Simms:Member of NCGR, AFA, AFAN, ISAR, IUF (International Uranian Fellowship) and APAI (Association for Professional Astrologers International)
Credentials: CA NCGR (in consulting) and PMAFA
My primary organizational activity has been with NCGR. I served as President of the chapter I founded in Connecticut, and then was on national’s Education Committee for several years. I was elected to the national board in 1981 or ’82 (can’t remember which) & served as Publications Director until a few months after Neil died (1990), when I resigned because the necessity to take over the administration of ACS had swallowed up all my time. Eight years later, in 1998, I sold ACS and moved east to marry Jim. I then ran for NCGR Chair, becoming the first woman to serve in that position. I served two terms (six years), and am now on the Advisory Board.
Erlewine: Thoughts on the state of modern astrology and astrologers?
Simms:This also relates to your question: Do you think astrology is a predictive tool, and if so, how so? So, I will answer them together:
About 30 years ago, it felt like I was part of a group of “movers and shakers”—the young renegades who were going to revolutionize astrology. Now I recently noticed myself referred to on some online commentary as one of the “wise elders of our community.” So, what has changed, or ought to?
It is good that we now have more well developed means of testing and granting certificates of competency in our field, but sad that there is very little recognition or even acknowledgement of the existence of these developments outside our field, and still a fair amount of resistance even within our field. We have one college, Kepler, that with widespread support from the astrological community, is now turning out bright young graduates who can be the “movers and shakers” of a new generation, but which is still struggling for full recognition by the authorities for the true purpose of its founding, unless it can somewhat mask that purpose with the more conventional “liberal arts” category.
In short, while there is progress, we are still a long way from being recognized by the mainstream as having anything significant to offer beyond the “pop” astrology of Sun sign columns or the occasional new clip on someone’s political or celebrity prediction, which may be noted (or ignored) if it is “right,” or made fun of if it is “wrong.”
Public figures who do see the value of astrology—and may even consult an astrologer—are still, for the most part unwilling to admit it.
Meanwhile, we astrologers remain mired in much the same disparity of belief and language as I remember from 30+ years ago. A lot of it boils down to the age-old controversy over fate vs. free will. I am thinking that this may be a key issue we need to resolve among ourselves before we can expect a new era where astrology can gain general public acceptance as a valid discipline. This involves how we speak and write about astrology, even among ourselves, because that expands outward to public perception of what we do, and whether it is worthwhile.
First I should acknowledge that something we might call “fate” was at play in the events that led me to become an astrologer, so I cannot deny that there is something beyond our total and unfettered “free will.” I feel that “fate” most likely relates to the realm of spirit that none of us can completely understand in this life, and which cannot consistently and accurately be known such that all of us can agree on just how it works. Evidence of this is in all the varied concepts of it that have resulted in a multiplicity of religious dogma and “new age” practices. But can “fate” be predicted? You, or any other astrologer who might read this, knows very well that the astrological transits that I mentioned in correspondence with those seemingly “fated” events in my life that could have also reflected many other potentials than those I described. And, through all of it, there are many alternative choices I could have made at each stage of the process.
Most astrologers will speak of the value of astrology in terms of choice, but then in the very next breath speak (or write) in language that depicts the planets as if they “cause” this or that to “happen” to us. Some of this is so entrenched in our language that we don’t even “hear” ourselves speaking it. This can make astrology intriguing to the uninitiated listener, perhaps, but also scary, engendering comments like, “Oh, you’re an astrologer. Tell me something about myself…” But then, with a little self-conscious laugh, “…but don’t tell me anything bad!” This implies that if it is “bad,” there is little or nothing we can do about it other than to suffer through it.
Language was always an editorial issue at ACS, when Editorial Director and psychological astrologer Maritha Pottenger would insist on choice-oriented language in the books we published, which often meant a LOT of editing, replacing such wording as “causes” with “corresponds to” or “reflects.” Authors complied, or they didn’t publish with us. But despite that policy and general efforts of psychological astrologers, I still hear plenty of causal language among astrologers—more often than not, even among those whom I don’t perceive truly think that way. It is apparently just an entrenched habit of speaking that can’t help but sound, to anyone that listens, as if the speaker believes that the planets are “doing it to us.” So, I have my doubts as to how much anything I might say will influence our general conversation, and by extension, the public. That said, I think that more of the public may come to take us seriously if we can demonstrate that astrology is a useful tool through which we can learn, evaluate, soul-search, and then by our own choices, BE the cause of improvements in our lives. We are far less likely to be taken seriously by anyone who sees astrology as primarily a predictive art that, in its published predictions, is all too often wrong.
Some predictive astrology can work pretty well, but it seems to me that when it has been most consistently “right,” it has come from someone’s extensive research over a long time in a specialty where he/she also has a solid background in the study of all aspects of the field in which he/she is predicting (such as financial cycles, for example). This type of forecasting seldom finds its way into mainstream published prediction “sound bites” that perpetuate a perception of astrology as lightweight, especially if the prediction is wrong, or even if it is right, that astrology is “really” about fate, with little or no free will permitted.
I think we would all do well, for both ourselves and any influence we have on the public, to focus on choice oriented language and on advocating a philosophy that emphasizes free will and the power of the individual to effect change. One simplistic way of looking at this (as I’ve written before in my books) is: within this life, there is no way we can know for sure whether we have unlimited free will or if our destiny is in any part “fated.” Therefore, practical common sense ought to tell us that we MUST think and behave as though our choices matter, as opposed to relinquishing that power to the planets.
The cosmos has been compared to a mirror in which we can see correspondences within our lives, and this can be useful if we use the information in the context of choice, rather than blaming the mirror for what we don’t like about our reflection. When one smiles at a mirror, we see it smile back; if one frowns, it frowns. The often quoted “As above, so below,” attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, continues “as within, so without, as the Universe, so the soul.”
Erlewine: The business of astrology? Does it work for you? What percentage of income? Tell us about it, etc.
Simms:During years when I have been in the business of astrology, it has worked for me, and it has sometimes represented my primary source of income. This was part of the time I had “Mystic Art”s, a metaphysical bookshop in Connecticut (1976-79), and when I was President of ACS (1990-1998). Mystic Aarts was creative, fun and I learned a lot.
My experience at ACS was extraordinary—as said, I stretched beyond anything I may have previously imagined, first in being on the cutting edge of computer production design, and then later in all the skills I had to acquire to be an effective administrator. No, this doesn’t sound much like astrology, but no matter what your business product or service is, you’d darned well better also learn and use all aspects of business management if you want to succeed!
In years when my activities were primarily involved with NCGR, or as a freelance consultant or teacher, percentage of income from astrology has been less compared to other sources. My current business, Starcrafts LLC, is now full time+ and is not yet a source of personal income. Though I have been publishing under the imprint of Starcrafts Publishing since 2004, most of what I’ve made has gone right back into the costs of publishing additional books. Since Jim and I only a few months ago acquired the assets of ACS and are now incorporating the Astro Computing Services and ACS Publications into Starcrafts LLC, we are still in somewhat of a startup situation. The business is currently partially supported by Jim, since it is located in a building he owns, but otherwise is doing a pretty good job of paying for its operating expenses and those we employ. So, despite the economy, we are optimistic.
Overall, to be clearly honest, I have had a different experience of astrological business as a woman, than what I perceive it would be for most men, or for women entirely on their own. I have been able to take risks to be full time in astrological business partially because I’ve been married and thus not required to fully support myself and my children, or when I’ve been between marriages, I’ve had some assistance from child support and/or a part-time job related to my art.
Erlewine: Do you identify yourself as an astrologer to others and how do they respond?
Simms:It depends on the situation, and my mood. If I am in the mood to deal with potential questions and have the time to do so, then I say (if anyone asks) that I am an astrologer. When I do, more often than not, I get favorable response and interest. But, if I lack the time, am just not in the mood to converse at length, or perceive that the person either will react badly or is only making small talk and doesn’t really care, I use one of my other identities. Example of what brought me to this opinion: encounter with strait-laced banker at a college reunion. “And Maria, what do you do?” I respond conservatively, “I’m a publisher.” “What kind of books do you publish.” “Astrology.” His face drops, he stammers, doesn’t know what else to say, so awkwardly moves on. Neither of us was at all interested in talking to the other beyond the superficial anyway. In such a situation, I could have more wisely said, “I still paint, and also do graphic design,” which almost surely would have avoided the awkwardness. If the situation or person inquiring matters to me at all, I can be very articulate. If it doesn’t matter, why bother? So, I tend to “read” the situation, as well as my own mood and time frame, and then decide accordingly.
Erlewine: Does astrology give you answers for deeply personal questions and quests?
Simms:Sometimes it has helped quite a lot with this, especially when I first got into it. Still does, at times, but now such things are probably more influenced by general life experience and my sense of spirituality.
About Astrologer Maria Kay Simms
Birth Data for Maria Kay Simms:
November 18, 1940, 8:01 am, Princeton, Illinois (birth certificate record)
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