Astrology and metaphysics in the White House

Cara Schulz —  March 10, 2016 — 27 Comments

While most media outlets and private citizens are remembering former First Lady Nancy Reagan for her political stances, almost forgotten is one of the most controversial revelations of her stint in the White House – that her consultations with an astrologer heavily influenced President Ronald Reagan.

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People Weekly, May 23, 1988

In 1988, Reagan’s former Chief of Staff Donald Regan included a bombshell in his book For the Record that Nancy consulted Astrologer Joan Quigley. He wrote that, “Virtually every major move and decision the Reagans made during my time as White House Chief of Staff was cleared in advance with a woman in San Francisco who drew up horoscopes to make certain that the planets were in a favorable alignment for the enterprise.”

Regan noted that those moves included setting the timing for summit meetings, presidential debates, the timing and date of State of the Union addresses, and every takeoff and landing of Air Force One. Nancy kept Quigley on a $3000 a month retainer and consulted her by phone up to 2 or 3 times a day.

After the White House and Mrs. Reagan confirmed that Quigley had been consulted on matters of timing, but not policy, the media had a field day.

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[Cartoon by award-winning artist Doug Marlette. Originally published in the Atlanta Constitution 1988]

While most of the negative press was focused on Nancy, some of it bled over on to the President. Evening talk show hosts called him ‘The Dipper’ and ‘Bonzo Rising,’ playing on Reagan’s nicknames. Newspaper editors and columnists questioned the President’s fitness to hold office. “I don’t know about you, but I don’t find it entirely comforting that the man with one hand on The Button has the other on a crystal ball,” wrote Tom Teepen in the Atlanta Constitution.

Scientists like James Kaler, a professor of astronomy at the University of Illinois, chimed in. He said,“How can you control a science budget of billions of dollars when you believe in nonsense of this magnitude?”

The Religious Right didn’t hold back, either. Vice President of the Moral Majority Cal Thomas wrote, “This is the last straw for a lot of religious people who treated Reagan as their political savior.”

The idea that the First Lady and her husband could take astrology so seriously was seen as an embarrassment and a danger. In an age of scientific advancement, how could this happen?

Yet, at the same time, it was a period of growth for the greater Pagan community, where festivals were being born, metaphysical shops were opening, and yes, information on divination techniques like astrology was exchanged.

Rev. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary remembers the revelations about Nancy Reagan,“The 1980s were a time before the cyber communications of email, blogs, and social media. During that era, the communications I had with other Pagans were mostly face-to-face at festivals and other events. In discussing the media reports about astrological consultations in the Reagan White House, some of us expressed concerns about many of the intense negative reactions that emerged in the country when this became visible. Yet, not all press coverage had derogatory dimensions. In fact, for me and some other Pagans I knew, the news was an indicator that Astrology and some other metaphysical practices were becoming more widespread and commonplace in society.”

Phaedra Bonewits, Witch and general occultist, said that she also remembers the period well, “At that time astrology was hardly hidden or exotic; every newspaper featured a column with daily sun sign advice, and certainly by the eighties, ‘What’s your sign?’ had long shifted from pick-up line to punch line. Her interest in astrology was framed more as a silly, gullible superstition.”

Rev. Fox added that she wasn’t surprised that Nancy Reagan consulted an astrologer, “After all, both Ronald and Nancy had roots in Old Hollywood where consulting astrologers, many of whom were friends, was a common practice. I am glad that First Lady Nancy Reagan mentioned her Astrology consultations the following year in her autobiography My Turn. Astrological consultations during the Reagan Presidency became a matter of public record.”

Nancy Reagan is hardly the first White House resident to seek guidance from astrology or other metaphysical methods. President Lincoln and First Lady Mary Todd were said to have Spiritualist séances in the White House to contact their dead son Willie. First Lady Florence Harding consulted with the astrologer & seer Madame Marcia during the Harding Presidency. Both President Theodore Roosevelt and President Franklin D. Roosevelt were also interested in astrology.

Former First Lady, and current Presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton consulted extensively with Jean Houston during the Clinton presidency. In 1986, reporter Bob Woodward included in his book The Choice the news that Mrs. Clinton spoke with Eleanor Roosevelt and Mahatma Gandhi, under the guidance of Ms. Houston. He also noted that there were periods in which Houston stayed at the White House for days at a time, particularly while Mrs. Clinton was writing the book It Takes a Village.

Unlike Nancy Reagan, Hillary Clinton didn’t confirm anything metaphysical, such as a seance, was taking place in the White House. She stated Houston was helping her get through a difficult time in her life using therapy. She wasn’t talking to the dead; she wasn’t having imaginary conversations with admired historical figures to sort through the pressures of being First Lady.

The press, mostly, followed this narrative.

Although Jean Houston, co-director of the Foundation for Mind Research, was a renowned psychologist, she also studied the psychic experience, and altered and expanded consciousness. She is considered one of the founders of the Human Potential movement, and also believed that talking to the dead through channeling was possible.

There hasn’t been any mention of Hillary Clinton continuing to consult with psychics or mediums since the mid-1990s.

Has public opinion changed on metaphysics in general and White House consultations in particular? Would a revelation, similar to the one about Nancy Reagan, spark a media storm or a yawn? What about other forms of divination like tarot?

“With the current religious climate, tarot cards might be another level of weirdness,” speculated Phaedra Bonewits. She continued to say, “I don’t think a right-wing candidate or First Spouse could get away with it at all; it would be seen as a betrayal of the religious right. For a left or liberal candidate or First Spouse, it would be one more bludgeon that conservatives could use to go after them. Rather than being mocked as Nancy was, I think it would turn very ugly.”

Cara Schulz

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Cara Schulz is a journalist and author living in Minnesota with her husband and cat. She has previously written for PAGAN+politics, PNC-Minnesota, and Patheos. Her work has appeared in several books by Bibliotheca Alexandrina and she's the author of Martinis & Marshmallows: A Field Guide to Luxury Tent Camping and (Almost) Foolproof Mead Making. She loves red wine, camping, and has no tattoos.
  • Charles Cosimano

    This reminds me of a funny story. In the fall of 1980, my girlfriend and I went to eat at the Baker’s Square in Wheaton, Illinois. There must have been some doings at the Fundamentalist encampment that day because there were a lot of well dressed people there. We found ourselves sitting near a family whose jackets were literally festooned with Reagan campaign buttons.

    I was immediately possessed by mirth demons and said to my girlfriend, knowing it would be heard, “I like Reagan. He’s a good Conservative but only one thing bothers me. He never does anything with consulting his astrologers.” At the time I was joking. I had no idea that Nancy did consult them. But the reaction from the family near us was priceless. They nearly choked en masse.

    Best prophecy ever!

    • Anna H. (Anima Mundi)

      This makes me very, very happy 🙂

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    I am struck by the symmetry of reactions from scientists and the religious right. Neither said, “This resulted in bad decisions,” with supporting evidence appended. No, they both said, in essence, “You’re not relating to the Universe my way, which is the right way!”

    • g75401

      I think the reaction that is most appropriate is to realize that, currently, the religious right holds the Reagans in the highest reverence. Right now, in TX, flags are being flown at half staff for Nancy. They don’t recall Nancy cavorting with “witches”….

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        Flags are at half-staff in Ohio, too.

        • Deborah Bender

          The flag is at half staff at the fire station in my town which is Obama country. Maybe fire fighters are Republicans, or maybe this is some sort of social trend, like memorials at the site of traffic accidents.

      • Jocelyne Houghton

        Flags are at half staff in memory of former First Lady Nancy Reagan by proclamation of the POTUS:

        http://halfstaff.org/us-flags-at-half-staff-honoring-nancy-reagan/

        • Deborah Bender

          Thanks, I didn’t know. Ordering flags flown at half staff is one of the things (pardoning people of Federal crimes is another) that Presidents can do whenever they want to, for any reason.

  • Merlyn7

    Everyone also makes fun of the fact that Nancy Reagan hired metaphysical types to protect her husband from the Curse of Tippecanoe (the 20 year curse). People scoff but while Reagan was shot he survived.

    • Charles Cosimano

      I had forgotten that. I know a number of Republican magicians (yes there are) were also working on that after he was elected.

      • Anna H. (Anima Mundi)

        Really??? I have often wondered why that curse did not play out in Reagan dying. Although I knew about the astrology, it never occurred to me that there might have been actual metaphysical protection being invoked.

  • Deborah Bender

    When the public learned that Nancy Reagan had been consulting astrologers and her husband had taken their advice on the timing of some of his activities, I thought, “That probably explains why Reagan is the Teflon President.” Timing is everything in politics. If the astrologers were not giving advice on what to do, only when to do it, then I don’t see how a person who thinks astrology is bunk could say that they did any harm with their advice.

    I didn’t know that the Roosevelts were interested in astrology.

    • Alejandro Rodríguez

      I don’t think astrologers had any influence on Reagan’s destructive policies but I don’t think that having served Reagan, a criminal if there was one, helps the case of astrology in any way.

      • Deborah Bender

        I hold it against John Yoo that he prepared memos justifying government use of torture, but I don’t hold his activities against the entire legal profession. The Constitutional remedy for Presidential criminal acts is impeachment.

  • Tim

    When I first learned of the Reagans getting astrological counsel during his presidency, that gave them a big nod of approval in my eyes. Some of the best advice I ever got in life came from astrologers I got readings from. I still recommend anyone to get astrological counsel for those difficult issues in life.

  • As an astrologer of a certain age, I remember the scandal well. It was possibly the only thing I did not emphatically disagree with the Reagans on. The backlash was vicious, and attitudes have not improved much in the intervening decades. I think the scandal would be as bad or worse now. As I have been arguing for decades, the bias against astrology is, in fact, tremendously UNscientific. Here’s my take on why. http://www.uraniaswell.com/you-dont-really-believe-in-astrology-do-you/

  • ChristopherBlackwell

    Remember this is also the time of the Satanic Child Abuse scare with people being tried and convicted of such crimes and several dozen people in the United States, Canada, and England actually went to prison for the alleged crimes of holding Satanic revels and raping children. It took nearly a decade before it dawned on them that the alleged repressed memories the kids were having was with much prompting of their Christian Right Psychologists. Police departments were listening to alleged Occult Experts and investigating alleged Occult Crime.

    The last case in the 1990s was the West Memphis Three all because one of the teenagers was a Wiccan, like Heavy Metal music, wore black and liked Steven King Novels. They tagged him even before they began the investigations, and did little to check anyone else, not even later when it was discovered that a step father’s DNA evidence was found on one of the shoes. Grizzly as the case of the three young dead boys were, no one really knows what happened or where they were killed. But there was no evidence at all of any Satanic ceremony involved in the murder of the young boys, who apparently were later dumped where they were found. So whoever the murderer was, got away scott-free and will never be brought to justice.

    I can recall of thinking how much this was like the days of Salem, convictions with no evidence. People lost freedom, homes, businesses, and families and when they finally got out of prison they got nothing to pay them back for all that they lost or suffered. The last American victim was from a Florida Prison I believe three years ago. We were just lucky they no longer hung people for such things.

    But, I recall how in the closet most Pagans and Wiccans were back then. Festivals were nearly secret, and we used colored yarn to show where to turn off onto the side roads and dirt roads to get to them. However we did not have to deal with so much of the public and as a result in may ways they were far more Pagan back then. So my memories are sort of mixed about both dangers of the period and what seemed to be the benefits of more isolated events and smaller numbers of people. Now there were other dangers sometimes at the events, and we have since had our share of scandals show up also from that period and later. So like all good ol’ days they are not completely as we choose to remember them.

    • Alejandro Rodríguez

      Sure, throwing a few people in jail, based on child rape allegations no less, is the same as the persecution in Salem where hundreds lost their lives.

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        Less than two dozen lost their lives in Salem.

      • Gaddy

        2 people in the Kern county case died in prison, unable to clear their names of the false allegations. Dozens spent YEARS in jail before their sentences were overturned.

        19 people were executed in Salem as witches, although as many as 36 may have sites as a direct result of the witch hunt.

        • Gaddy

          Died, not sites…

      • ChristopherBlackwell

        Spending a couple of decades in jail, having your life ruined, losing your family by the charges splitting them apart parents and children, permantly losing your reputation, your property and your business and then let out with no recognition of your false arrest, no erasing of your record, no record that you were innocent of all charges and that injustice was down to you and no composition for harm done, hardly good for the victim. There is no way to heal from such an experience and there was never any evidence of a crime, exactly like the Witchcraft Charges. By the ways such false charges almost did lead to the death of of one the West Memphis Three, which also was a result of the great Satanic Scare, but continuing into the nineties. Sorry that you don’t see the similarities, but we may be about to head into another edition of it as bad times continue and socially gets disrupted. So what our own scare proved is that it can still can happen here. It happened once, and that it can happen again. That is the reason we should remember and pay attention to what the religious extremists are up to. Those that refuse to remember and learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Just as the once modern Twentieth century did not protect us from it, neither will our so called advanced Twenty-first Century protect us from it happening again.

    • Macha NightMare

      FWIW, both Witches and Xtians were involved in investigating and debunking the Satanic panic — and on both sides.

  • Alejandro Rodríguez

    People greatly exaggerate the Christian religiosity of Republicans and Americans in general. I mean, this is a country where New Age books sell by the millions, yoga is practicied everywhere, horoscopes are published daily on all major news outlets and newspapers and where the media love to highlight the spiritual beliefs of millionarie celebrities like Robert Downey Jr. and Julia Roberts, not to mention promote figures like the Dalai Lama. Heck, Republicans are among those that make the contrast between violent Islam and peaceful Buddhism and Hinduism and have had no qualms reuniting with the Dalai Lama, and in fact are big cheerleaders of him and the Tibet cause. So no, it’s not weird for Republicans to have non-Christian superstitious beliefs and there would be nothing damning in pointing this out.

    • Tauri1

      The emphasis here is on “superstitious beliefs”. In fact here in TN, people will use “biblical prognostication” for a lot of major decisions. That’s when the person asks a question then opens the bible at a random page to determine what the “biblical oracle” says about the situation. That is no different than consulting the I Ching or throwing Norse rune sticks. (disclaimer: I was taught from a hereditary Norse soothsayer how to “throw” the rune sticks.)
      Now I’m not saying that all of these ways are “superstitious”. In fact, I have a hypothesis that what people are actually doing is using Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle to shift from one probability to another, but that’s just my take on things.

      • Alejandro Rodríguez

        I find biblical prognostication to be superstitious as well, and I’m Christian.

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        I have long regarded “superstition” as a slam word against the religious practices of someone else. The word literally means “one thing placed upon another” and refers to putting a “wrong” purpose or reading upon something else.