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.
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.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.”