We interviewed Nura faculty member Jenn Zahrt, PhD on how astrology is an amazing narrative making machine and what the myth of Gilgamesh can teach us about literary gnosis and culture building.
Where do you hail from? Answer that however you’d like.
The first time I ever felt “home” in the true sense of the word was in Leipzig, Germany when I was sixteen and living there during my exchange year in high school. I still feel deep resonance with that place, however in the United States, I belong in the Pacific Northwest. Although, half my family moved to Tampa while I wasn’t looking, so I’ll have ample chances to visit Nura HQ in the near future.
How did you get “into” astrology?
Being grounded! No seriously! My parents grounded me for months at the beginning of my sophomore year of high school. The reasons why no longer matter, but it really sent me on a tailspin. My German teacher—and, unbeknownst to me then, a leader in the local astrological community—saw how upset I was about it and asked me about my birth data. The next day after class, he handed me a printout of my natal chart (which I still have!), suggested some books to get at Powell’s Books, and said if I have any questions about all of it, ask him after school. And so it began. Every day after school we’d spend time together going over various facets of the craft… Also, my computer got taken away that year, so I had to learn how to do charts from scratch from day one. I didn’t use a computer to do charts until about a year later.
During those months of being grounded I had the distinct feeling that astrology “saw” me objectively for the first time. God never answered my questions, and astrology was right there with a megaphone and rally cries addressing every one of them in detail. It gave me a framework to understand why I act one way and, say, a Taurus acts another. And that I would never be a Taurus-type person. It increased my own compassion and tolerance for people, and then when I tried to sing the praises of this ancient practice, I found myself faced with severe amounts of ignorance and intolerance—the most extreme kind of irrational responses coming from proudly self-proclaimed rational people! The hypocrisy was astounding. I also learned that it was shunned from all legitimate (read officially sanctioned) paths of education, and it became my mission to correct that imbalance. That’s how I eventually ended up in the world of publishing.
What’s your favorite thing about making books and being a publisher?
Towards the end of the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of humanity’s first remembered stories, after trying to achieve immortality, Gilgamesh is finally convinced of his mortality by seven loaves of bread. Each day while he slept a deep sleep, a new loaf was made and left to rot. By the time he woke up, Gilgamesh could see evidence of the passing of time, and the only way he’d survive his mortal flesh was to live a life so grand, so epic, as it were, that his story would outlive his body. Narrative is immortality.
Every time I publish something, I see it as another Gilgamesh-ian effort to overcome our mortal limitations. I love seeing ideas being born. I love galvanizing people to allow their creativity to take on independent concrete form and enter into conversation with past ideas and knowledge forms. Then, I love watching how these admixtures spread, and go on to create even more forms of gnosis for the living, who can generate ever new feedback loops. Rinse, repeat.
Beyond this, in true Gilgamesh fashion, I love taking risks that conventional publishers avoid because they are worried about profit and not concerned with the integrity of what they are giving eternal life to. There are so many important conversations waiting to be had in print that have been silenced or derailed because of how the profit motive shapes our society. That’s part of what I’ll be discussing in my first course with Nura.
So, what was your inspiration for Revelore Press? We love the name, by the way.
Thank you! You know, the inspiration is encoded in its very name: revel in lore. After spending much of the last year in deep contemplation of what makes my life’s work coherent (between astrology, translating texts from German to English, publishing of others and my own work, and on and on), I woke up one morning with this word in my mouth: Revelore. It gave me chills, goose bumps, even nausea… I knew I had finally found the right container for my deepest vision. Within four hours the digital and legal frameworks were in place—almost like Athena springing fully formed from Zeus’s skull.
The one thread that weaves together every single thing I do is the joy of narrative, the delight in language and what it makes possible, and sparking that joy in others, whether as consumers or creators themselves. Revel in lore.
For example, astrology is a storytelling technology, just like English or German, except it has planetary rules in addition to grammatical ones, and relies on other human languages to be communicated—a language within a language, so to speak. The vision for the press is to work with like-minded revelers who have something profound to bring to our experience of narrative in all its forms (even nonlinguistic) and establish a supportive community to allow this work to grow and morph as we grow together. How far can we go, and who are we becoming as we do this?
Note that Revelore’s purview is not limiting itself to a specific realm. For it to be successful, it has to take a collaborative approach based on teamwork from the get-go so that it does not succumb to founder’s syndrome, which happens to so many start-ups. I have seen time and again how control, vanity, and pretense stifle creative environments. Everyone who has joined the Revelore team is fully mandated to flex their creative muscles and make their own publishing visions real. We share the same values of distributed leadership, and we are already producing some exciting work I would have never thought of by myself. How awesome is it when your press can delight you with unexpected awesomeness as much as you delight in creating awesomeness through it? That’s the kind of world I want to live in and create for and with others.
This rhizomatic element is critical to the vision. The instant this container was created, it yearned for a strong team, which I have already been working with in my various pursuits for some time, just not all in one place. Now, together through Revelore, all of us seek to generate a space of genuine generosity, reciprocity, and joy in the creation and exchange of ideas that push the limits of what we can know, do, be… and yet we are all independent creators pursing many other crafts alongside whatever we do at Revelore. Like you! I’m so thrilled that you and the Nura community are contributing your richness to Revelore’s becoming and that Revelore can contribute to Nura’s richness in turn.
Do you have a creative muse (or two)?
I don’t hold any specific individual before me at the moment. I look up to polymathic figures, multi-passionate, enterprising people who are unafraid to try new things, or old things in new ways, and iterate, iterate, iterate… then fail, and get right back up and try again. Perfection is death, and perfectionism is a fear-based way to live. To flourish, we need iteration, we need to start before we think we’re ready, to risk being seen as silly or weird or wrong… and we have to learn how to walk away from creative projects and collaborations that have run their course, rather than stubbornly pushing them beyond their normal life cycle out of some fear of failure or what other people will think. That’s been an important and valuable creative lesson. Nature does it every day, month, and year. We must rise and set and rise again… wane before we can wax anew. But to return to your initial question, if you forced me to name one person, the experimental poetry of Christian Bök comes to mind…
Describe one way that astrology can help us make sense of our (contemporary) world.
Astrology provides a reflective, yet generative, surface. It is formed in the human mind from archives of human experience. It is a thoroughly human creation, and those formations vary depending on which culture you are drawing your “astrology” from. It is important that we keep in mind that astrology is always and ever a plural noun: there’s no one astrology, just as there’s no one belly button. Every human is already an astrologer, they just might not be aware of it yet. We all have some kind of meaningful relationship with the sky; some of us (who happen to call ourselves by the label “astrologer”) have sharper tools to interpret our experiences with it.
So when we take up an astrological system, we can look to it to show how past humans acted in the face of similar patterns of experience (according to that specific strand of astrological practice). When we take that archive of human experience in view, we can see ourselves better, give ourselves some wider context, and then make informed choices about how to act now. How to reconcile the various astrological systems? Ask: Which testimonies overlap? What gaps are revealed? When we analyze those overlaps and gaps, then we can see our possibilities and choices to act.
Are there particular “rockstars” in astrology, and if so, who is your personal heavy-hitter?
My current fave rockstar is Elsbeth Ebertin (1880–1944). She was a serious heavy hitter in early twentieth century Germany. Ebertin was a divorced mother, at a time when that was highly unfashionable, and she single-handedly built a publishing empire and popularized astrology in the Weimar Republic. Her legacy has been overshadowed by both historians neglecting her and her son outshining her, as he eventually became very well known in the English-speaking world. Through my Patreon project, I seek to bring her work into English for the first time and let everyone meet her and see what a seminal figure she was.
As for living astrologers, there are some amazing astrologers producing excellent work right now, and they are more accessible than I think astrologers have ever been at any point in history. I am honored to have many of them in my orbit, so when you enter my orbit too, you’re likely to rub shoulders with some of them. Come hang out with us.
What’s the most exciting research project you’ve been working on, as of this interview date?
Well, the Ebertin material is exciting to me, but I recently hit up on another element in my work in the German material: the cosmology of the hypothetical planets in the Hamburg School (Uranian School) system of astrology. While I was getting my PhD in the German department at UC Berkeley, my advisors steered me away from the technical astrological literature. It was too edgy for the conservative nature of the ivory tower.
So this year, I finally began to look at very first publications of Alfred Witte, the founder of the style of astrology that became known as the Hamburg School. By rooting around in the primary sources, going back as early as 1913, I was surprised to discover that he had a clear cosmological vision for his hypothetical planets that has not yet been sufficiently expressed in English. A fellow scholar/astrologer, Michael Feist, has made some attempts to communicate what is at the heart of these special points, but it doesn’t seem like anyone is listening, and I have not seen anyone else articulate what I am finding in the German. So I am currently writing an article about it based on a presentation I gave last summer at the University of Wales. It’s always exciting to discover a new cosmology! Witte’s ideas give me a serious buzz!
Stay tuned for Jenn's upcoming classes, including the class "Astrology and Capitalism" and her follow-up 5-week course, "Comparative Astrologies". Registration opens this Fall!