Brezsny in retrograde

[Webmaster’s note: Free Will Astrology is a syndicated column that appears in the print edition of Mountain Xpress only. For Rob Brezsny’s horoscopes online visit freewillastrology.com]

Rob Brezsny‘s Free Will Astrology may be one of the most popular features to grace the pages of the Mountain Xpress — but it’s not for everyone.

“Like many sun-sign astrologers, [Brezsny’s] material is long on metaphors, with nonexistent content,” Asheville-based astrologer J. Lee Lehman complained in a recent e-mail interview. “I think the point is this: The column … is written by a guy who is using a tool at perhaps the 0.0001 percent level.”

If professional credentials count, Lehman is one local who can legitimately talk smack about Brezsny’s expertise with a zodiac chart. Lehman, who holds a doctorate in botany from Rutgers University, is an instructor at Kepler College in Seattle. The private, online school offers state-accredited degrees in astrological studies. The author of several books on astrology, Lehman also runs Lehman Associates, an astrological consulting and teaching outfit.

So what’s her professional assessment of Brezsny’s astrological abilities?

“I don’t know,” she responds. “Searching his Web site, I literally cannot tell whether he actually knows any astrology or not. Brezsny is using astrology at the kindergarten level, although he may in fact know much more than that. If he does, he’s seriously dumbing it down.”

But before loyal Brezsnyphiles start charging that Lehman is motivated by professional jealousy, consider this: She used to be part of the same sun-sign-driven California scene, and she’s walked a few miles on the newspaper-horoscope-writer’s road herself.

“I [wrote] a weekly column for a San Francisco newspaper a number of years ago,” says Lehman, noting that writing about astrology isn’t necessarily the dream job some might imagine. “It’s a lot of work for very little pay.”

To be sure, Brezsny’s getting paid more than most: His syndicated column runs in some 130 newspapers, and his nationwide following has helped him sell books as well. But what about Mr. Freewill’s accuracy — something many of his readers swear by. Does Lehman agree with Brezsny’s weekly zodiacal take?

“What is there to agree with? I rather view sun-sign columns as being like science fiction compared to science,” she says. “It can be fun, [and] it can get people interested in the real thing. Bottom line: It’s entertainment.”

Although Brezsny may rub some local star-searchers the wrong way, others seem to like what he has to say. Free Will Astrology “is very entertaining and quirky,” says Benjamin Bernstein, the astrology columnist for the Asheville-based monthly The Indie. “His style shows that you can have fun with astrology while still making a helpful point. He is doing a huge service to astrology — and thus to humanity — by helping a lot of people see this ancient art in a positive light.”

A relative newcomer to professional astrology, Bernstein has already gained some local notoriety. Along with partner Mary O’Shannon, he runs the “holistic astrology” consulting business It’s All Good Astrology. He also co-hosts a weekly podcast, The Astrology Show, with his former mentor, astrologer/author Kelly Lee Phipps.

Bernstein says his own training was rooted in the fundamentals of Western astrology, including such key concepts as natal charts, future energies (aka “the cosmic weather”), transits, secondary progressions and solar arcs. It can be easy for those who aren’t astrologically inclined to get lost in the jargon, but Bernstein says his focus is on “integrating body, heart, mind and spirit.”

So how does Bernstein’s approach contrast with that of Xpress‘ planetary prophet?

“We differ more in terms of style than substance,” says Bernstein. “With four planets in Capricorn, I am much more down-to-earth. I strive to keep my points simple and impactful. I can certainly have fun with astrology — but my approach is fundamentally more serious.”

Consequently, Bernstein says, he’d do some things differently if he had Brezsny’s gig. “Brezsny strives first to entertain, then to inform,” Bernstein observes. “As a result, each of his weekly forecasts for each sign only covers one transit. My natural style would reverse the mix, focusing more on informing than entertaining.”

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