The first thing I think when I arrive at astrologer Susan Miller’s 2016 Year Ahead Talk is that the press corps has turned out in force. Everywhere I look, women — and it is mostly women — are frantically rummaging in their purses for pens and notebooks, ears pricked and eyes narrowed with rapt attention. About 150 of them in total, all ages and races. Not journalists, I soon realize, but attendees, all nibbling on fruit salad, sipping coffee from the breakfast spread (included with the $99 ticket fee) and breathless with excitement. Devoted, rapt, they are the lesser moons surrounding the saturnine gravitas of Susan Miller, who, walking onstage to a seat flanked by a pair of Victorian palms amid a backdrop of vintage wallpaper blooming with faded constellations of daffodils, promptly thanks everyone for coming, inquires as to which zodiac sign audience members are by a show of hands, and implores her attendees to try the pastries. Astrologer Susan Miller is the internet’s original matriarch. Once a month, for the past 20 years, she has published a detailed horoscope for each of the 12 zodiac signs on her website, Astrology Zone, which receives 6.5 million unique visits per month and 100 million pageviews per year. The level of detail in her forecasts is legendary — from predicting engagements to ideal dates for a short vacation and even opportune moments to buy a lotto ticket. Now, she is holding an in-person, all-day talk, including a lunch and Q&A session, for a small group of her most ardent fans. Armed with her encyclopedic knowledge of the cosmos' inner workings, she has promised to reveal what lies ahead for every star sign in 2016. We're at The Harmonie Club in Manhattan, one of those old-fashioned member’s clubs that somehow still exists, where one imagines giant finance deals are made over very small coffees on the daily. The kind of joint which, Miller specifies in the event’s invite, has a no-jeans-allowed dress code. Therefore, she advises ladies to wear “business casual, including elegant trousers or pants with a blouse, pretty sweater, and cardigan.” It’s a place where, for eight hours, we will sit, craning our heads in our grand, outmoded chairs; stargazing heathens in our Sunday best, politely circling Miller as she conjures galaxies between her delicate fluttering fingers, unable to resist her peculiar brand of gravity. Throughout the day, the sound of pencils frantically scratching at notebooks will be the soft-dinned orchestra to Miller’s sing-song libretto. The attendees, we will later find out, have all been born under equally vast, separate, and seemingly uncaring skies — from Turkey to England to Australia — representing just a tiny cluster of the millions of visitors each month to Astrology Zone. But if there is one thing that unites all of Miller and her devotees, it is the belief that the fleeting, essential business of the stars must not go unnoticed. Miller, who is petite, impeccably blowdried, and dressed like the born-and-bred Upper East Side lady that she is, gets right to it. Scorpios need to socialize this year. Geminis should look out for new business partners. Tauruses are likely to find love. The atmosphere is part church, part girls-night-out, part group therapy session. Miller speaks entirely without notes, only occasionally pausing, eyes fluttering closed in concentration, to make a complex astrological calculation here and there. She personifies planets — “Saturn is like Balanchine with his stick” — and addresses each sign of the zodiac in cooing, affectionate terms — “How many Capricorns do we have here? Oh, look at all those little goats!” Whenever she mentions a sign, there’s an audible “yesss,” as if someone’s number just came up at the bingo hall. At the mention of an upcoming Mercury retrograde, the crowd audibly groans. But, occasional pantomime aside, the science that is picking apart the cosmos is sacrosanct. When Miller remarks that an attendee’s fortune may be suffering due to “a square Uranus,” there isn’t so much as a snicker (for the record, in an odd slip-up, Miller pronounces said planet’s name as Ur-AR-nus). And as well as guidance, there are warnings. Under no circumstance should anyone get Botox during a Venus retrograde, Miller warns sternly. Turning to her take on the presidential election, she states that she chooses to read Neptune over the newspapers. On election day, “Neptune is looking busy,” she adds. This means that “we won’t likely know who has won for two days.” (Miller later explains that "We each have to vote to avoid such a close election that we will be counting votes to find the winner — it will be that close an election.") It’s this entirely winning approach, pogoing seamlessly from the stars down to hard earth in a single sentence (not to mention the level of detail she’s able to cover), which endears Miller so much to her fans, to whom she is so much more than a monthly stop on the internet.
At the mention of an upcoming Mercury retrograde, the crowd audibly groans.
After three-and-a-half hours of talk, it’s time for lunch. A section of the group peels off upstairs to eat chicken breast with wild mushrooms and baby arugula salad. Miller circles the room (part of the lunch package promises 10-minutes with the lady herself). I chat with my table mates, all of whom introduce themselves by name and sign. Nicki, 28, (Leo, Moon in Virgo, Taurus rising) tells me that she was raised a Catholic, but now turns to astrology for daily guidance. “In my family, we went to church twice a week. But as I grew up and came into my own, I developed my own belief system. Now, astrology helps me make decisions based on how my life fits in with my chart,” she says. (For Miller's part, she hopes that religion and a love for astrology coexist in her fans: "I never want readers to think astrology is a religion," she says. Instead, it "will simply reflect your feelings of faith in the chart. Your ninth house reflects the intellectual dogma of your religion (if you have one, and I hope you do) and the twelfth house is where your pure intuitive faith and feelings of belief is reflected and crystalized.") This time, Nikki has come with a specific question for Miller on one of her biggest decisions yet: her plans to permanently ink her ribs with a tattoo of a Leo constellation.
Crystal, 40, (Pisces, Aries rising) and her daughter Nyzell, 18, (Virgo, Aries Moon, Libra Rising) rode two hours on the 5 a.m. bus from Allentown, PA, to New York City for the talk. Nyzell had been up since 2 a.m. “I was too excited to sleep,” she says.
For Crystal, Miller is a kind of co-parent. “She makes you feel like she knows you — she seems as if she has genuine concern. I wanted a basis for my daughter to take with her for the rest of her life. I wanted her to have another person, a mentor.” When Miller finally arrives at our table during the dessert course, there is a palpable frisson of excitement. Nicki is thrilled. Nyzell looks close to tears. After politely enquiring as to the whereabouts of the coffee, Miller asks everyone around the table to tell her our names and what we do. As each introduces themselves, along with their accompanying suns, moons, and planets in various houses, Miller nods along enthusiastically. When an attendee confesses that where she was born, in India, they didn’t write down the time of her birth, Miller audibly sighs. In astrology, knowing the exact time and location that you were born is essential. Individual astrological charts can only be accurate when drawn from exactly where the planets and stars were at the moment of birth. Still, Miller's intimate knowledge of the stars means that all is not lost: The attendee can either list the top 10 events of her life for her astrologer, who can work backwards from there (using the events as clues in what's called "chart rectification"), or the astrologer can do a sunrise chart, which Miller says is "the next best thing." “Your chart will never be anyone else’s chart. That means that what’s in your heart matters,” Miller emphasizes. It’s a combination of this belief in every person’s unique individuality and her talent for intimacy, dispensing advice which falls neatly into a Venn diagram of loving parent and living room therapist, that makes her so winning. This ability is particularly revealed post-lunch, during the four-hour long Q&A session. Part Sybil, part savant, Miller conjures and comforts with equal aplomb. One audience member not-so-abstractly alludes to a bad boyfriend with whom incompatibly doesn’t seem to be limited solely by zodiac sign (“He’s an Aries, obviously,” she says, eyes rolling). The room, sufficiently energized by lunch, offers a few open cries of “Dump him!” Ever so gently, Miller adds, “Sometimes, a man doesn’t know how much you mean to him until you leave.” A soon-to-be grandmother, her hands visibly shaking as she speaks into the microphone, asks the following question, her voice cracking with concern: “Susan, if a baby is born with Saturn in the ninth house, will the child have learning difficulties?” “No. It just means they’ll attend a tough university,” Miller replies. “Also, if he ever wants to get citizenship in a foreign country, he needs to start early. But overall, I wouldn’t worry one bit about this baby.” The woman sits down, visibly moved, her hands folding softly onto her lap with relief.
I catch up one-on-one with Miller just over a week later. Her March forecasts came out yesterday and she’s exhausted, she tells me, which makes sense given that each month, she writes a full novel’s worth of words (typically between 30,000 and 48,000 of them, to be precise — and this is a precise woman). Each forecast takes about seven hours to write, except for Libra, who, she explains, has “recently been going through so much pain” that it’s been taking “takes 10 times as long.” The consummate New Yorker, “I’d leave a man before I left Manhattan,” she says, totally deadpan. Miller reveals that she gets some of her best writing done at — wait for it — Dunkin’ Donuts. “They have excellent Wi-Fi, and at the one I go to on the Upper East Side, there’s an outdoor area and a little fountain. You’d think you were at the Four Seasons,” she laughs. Miller majored in business at NYU, then represented commercial photographers for advertising campaigns. And she was good at it, she tells me, before listing many of the high-powered campaigns she brought to life. Astrology was a hobby: She’d calculate charts for friends as gifts. In 1995, after many of them urged her to take the charts to a wider audience, she began Astrology Zone. Now, she has columns in eight international magazines, two best-selling apps, video partnerships with Glamour magazine and Deepak Chopra, and fans among the glitterati. (One of Miller's many endearing qualities is the obvious delight she takes in her celebrity friends — Pharrell Williams is “so nice, and loves astrology,” she says. She’s thrilled that Robert Verdi was in attendance at her talk.) It is safe to say her star is in the ascendant. And what does she make of this phenomenal success? “I’m just a hard-working astrologer who does a lot of math and likes to write it down,” she answers modestly. “My readers are my boss.” It is this relationship with her fans that sets her apart, she says. It’s certainly the genesis of the famous level of detail in her forecasts, her desire to reach each of her readers with the minutia she believes they deserve. But it’s also a relationship that carries a heavy weight of expectation. Over the last two years, Miller has battled various illnesses, and a small group of haters seemingly took advantage of her vulnerability. In 2014, an “Abandoned by Susan Miller” page was set up on Facebook (the group's name has been changed, and it's now private). What Miller describes as "a flash mob of haters" intentionally drove her App Store rating down after her pricing increased, she explains. And she received, she says sadly, many angry emails.
it’s a relationship that carries a heavy weight of expectation.
Miller’s illnesses, starting with a congenital condition that led to internal bleeding, have been as myriad as the galaxies she interprets. That particular condition wasn’t properly diagnosed until she was a teenager and she vividly remembers waking up from surgery at 14 with a dropped foot and a giant cast, unsure if she would walk again. It was an operation that changed her life, she emphasizes, because it was only then that her mother, the affectionately named “Little Mom” (and whose illness and passing, in 2012, she documented extensively on her website), agreed to teach her astrology. Under Little Mom’s tutelage, she spent much of her recovery committing astrological calculations, planetary shadings, and celestial meanings to memory under a lilac tree in her grandmother’s garden. Her experience of illness has shown her, she emphasises, the importance of including hope and positivity in her forecasts. “I believe that all of my illnesses have opened my mind” she says. “That means I can’t just bring my readers to the briar patch and leave them there. There’s always something good in a chart, even in the darkest hours.” Miller recounts another story about her beloved mother, her voice trembling with emotion. “She asked me, Little Susan, do you know why you were born? And I said no. And she said, 'Well, we don’t know, but we should all find the reason.'” In her fans, Miller says, she has found hers. “They mean everything in the world to me,” she adds. “People put their heart in my hands. That is such a privilege. I want so badly to do for them what my mother did for me. I want to be the coach that helps them find what they already have inside,” she says. She wants "to help people help themselves, but sparking their own creativity and by providing new perspectives." This is Miller’s magic. Recognizing that in each one us there sleeps, as Philip Larkin once wrote, a sense of life lived according to love. And that maybe, just maybe, like the stars, we are all mostly gas and dust, studded and shining our brightest in a vast universe, waiting for our light to be seen.