Kay: Speaking of organization, you’ve been involved with the organizations for a very long time, and then, of course, you put on your own conference. How did you first get involved in an organization, and how do you feel that’s changed your life and your role as an astrologer?
Donna: I was dragged, kicking and screaming, into organizations as well.
Donna: Canada had a very fledgling organization called (Fraternity for Canadian Astrologers…?) I was in Montreal and a woman I didn’t know called me one day. She was quite insistent that I must come out to these meetings. I said that I had no time, and I avoided her for a long time. This was a group that was the only one bringing in U.S. speakers, and Montreal was large. It was bilingual.
So, finally I turned up. We’ll leave it at the fact that the politics in that group were nasty. Then, I moved to Toronto. I escaped. My phone rang one day and there was this woman by the name of Priscilla Costello. And, she said we’d like you to come out, and I said no, that I’d done groups. Not interested. Thank you. So sorry. But she called once a month.
I did actually finally go to check it out. They sponsored Ray Merriman. This was years ago. This would be back circa, possibly 1980. At that point, Ray was not as well known for his financial work. He had done an evolutionary astrology book, very different than evolutionary astrology today, and he’d done a solar return book. I thought, okay, I’ll go to this. I went and nobody said hello or nobody greeted me. I went with a girlfriend and we walked out and I said, “Well, that was an interesting evening, wasn’t it?” But, he was good.
Ms. Costello kept calling and then she said, “Well, you’ve got a book out. Would you come and speak?” I said, “No, I don’t like speaking.” She said, “Well, we’d really like to have you as a speaker.” I said, “Well, I’m really not interested. Thank you.”
So, I didn’t hear from her for awhile. At that point, I was teaching in Montreal and Toronto. I went to Montreal. The phone rang one night, and my girlfriend, where I stayed, said it was for me. Well, it was Priscilla Costello. There was this dinner coming to the table, this beautiful Italian dinner, and here is Priscilla on the phone. She’s called long distance a big deal in those days! Would I speak 90 days from then? So, to get her off the phone, I said yes, and then said to my girlfriend, “Boy, she’s going to be sorry.”
It just evolved from there because she wanted to take a break and nobody wanted to run the group, so I got it. That was Canadian stuff. Then, through the Canadian stuff, I got dared to run for AFAN. I’ve always believed that one should join anything with a good journal and/ or newsletter, so I’ve been a member of NCGR and ISAR for years and years and years, but have not served on their Board. I’ve been an advisor for NCGR, but not on their Board. And, how does that change my astrology? I’ve had the good fortune to meet some absolutely wonderful astrologers, some of whom have become good acquaintances, if not friends, and that’s been wonderful. I will say that if I were not involved in organizations, I would have more time to write. There have been times that I’ve begrudged that, but I still keep wandering back. Groups find me. They just find me.
Kay: Yes, I can see that. Now, I know your Node book because I actually had your Node book years before I ever met you. Do you have any other books?
Donna: I have another book called The Mars Book. I’m not good at titles. The Mars Book was out of print for a number of years, and has now been reissued by AFA. Beyond that, I’ve done reams of articles and chapters in books, and I’m sitting here with two unfinished manuscripts. Maybe one day, I’ll actually get them finished — or not.
Kay: And, how did you decide to start SOTA?
Donna: I am a great one for—you know, I’m a Pisces. So, if there’s nobody else to do it… And, what had happened is the Canadian organization had died a rather dramatic death. The local organization was having its ups and downs, and when Priscilla ran things, they used to have a conference every 2 years. Well, Priscilla wasn’t running things and the organization was having some serious internal problems, and I’m sitting after class with a bunch of students one night, and somebody says, “Gee, I miss the conference. (It was October.) Gee, I miss the conference.” And, I said, “yeah, I do too.” We got talking about no matter how good of a teacher you are, you can’t teach everything. You have to keep exposing your students to alternate ideas and new topics, because if you don’t, they become very rigid and they’re just not well rounded. It’s just like university. You have a bunch of different instructors.
So, we sat there and lamented for a time. This little upstart looks at me and says that, “you can run the conference.” But, you know, it appealed, so I looked into it and it’s still going. The early years, I took some ginormous losses. At least once every pre-conference period, I would say never a-bleepin-gain. But, it’s still here. And, it will probably continue here until I can’t do it anymore. I am hoping that there will be somebody to step up to the plate and take it over at that point.
Kay: Yes, that would be great.
Donna: I think it’s important for this geographic area, among other things.
Kay: Yes, it’s a great conference. I noticed in another interview you said that this is the conference that has always drawn intermediate to professional astrologers, so it has a particular niche.
Donna: It does, and it was structured that way because the whole idea started in an intermediate class. But, we did try several times to have some kind of beginner’s class. We had a day for beginners and we would offer a crash course or what you might call “Beginner’s Brush Up.” It was never well attended, so about 5 years ago, I said, you know, I think the writing is on the wall. We better concentrate on what we’re good at doing. And, there is some kind of spillover as far as where we’re located now. We are near a place called Lily Dale. Lily Dale is a spiritualist community. A lot of the locals that come to SOTA also have interests in spiritual subjects. So, we always have at least a couple of people from Lily Dale who might talk about—well, this year, one of them is Pythagorean numerology.
They’ve talked about the Ascension. They’ve talked about reincarnation and mediumship. I mean, these are certainly not in-depth courses, and the people who go to Lily Dale might or might not go to them because for them, they’re very basic. But, some of our astrologers go to them, and a couple of them had some interesting eye-opening experiences. I like the cross-fertilization.
Kay: Yes, I’ve always enjoyed the SOTA evening event where the mediums give readings to the audience. That has been quite powerful. I was going to ask you about your own intuitive side, because you are a Pisces, and being around you, clearly, I can feel that you’ve got a strong psychic vibe. How has that affected you in your life and in your role as an astrologer?
Donna: Well, first of all, I think it took me a long time to get comfortable with it and accept it and work with it and trust it. It’s certainly something that is a help with clients. It has not been help in other ways—like, I’m an introvert, as are many psychic people. I’ve had enormous difficulty with the crowd scene. I keep winding up there, but I really had to train myself. In a session if I’m not feeling comfortable, I have to determine where is that discomfort coming from? Sometimes I have to throw up some roadblocks or sometimes, and it’s rare that you can do this, but to say “I’m getting this real mixed message from you. What’s going on?” And, the few times I’ve done that, it can be anything from somebody saying, “God, I’m having a bad day, I think my marriage is on the rocks,” and going in a totally different direction; to people looking visibly upset and asking, why would you say that? When the body language stiffens and you get that, why do you say that, you know that something wasn’t straight there, and now they know you know it. And chances are they won’t try that again. So, it is a mixed blessing.
It’s also a mixed blessing because I was taught that you are supposed to be very clear about what you’re telling people. It needs to come from the chart, not from psychic stuff. So, there was a bit of a discouragement, against blending the psychic in. It’s probably taken me 30 years to realize that 9 times out of 10, the stuff that you’re picking up on psychically is there in the chart. You’re just not zeroing in on it, and it’s like this little reminder saying, yoo-hoo, yoo-hoo. Look at this. So, I will throw it out in passing and say, “Oh, and by the way, I’ve got a feeling there might be something like this in your life or of interest or concern to you. Is that right?” And, if they say yes, I continue, and if they say no, I say,
“Okay, chalk that one up for maybe later. And, we’ll take it there.”
But, as Frances Sakoian said, I have kind of gone full circle because I dabbled in all this stuff before I committed to astrology. And now, I’m back on the Board of a spiritualist church. I tell you, Boards find me. And, I do have this strong interest in gemstones and things like that. So, the metaphysics has always been there and I’ve learned it’s better to trust your intuition than to try to shut it down because boy, it bites you if you try to shut it down.
Kay: Yeah, it bites you and, as you say, it can be very beneficial and important as you’re working with clients through the astrology.
Donna: Yes, and most of the time, it’s an adjunct. For example, I’ll have a client come in and ask about travel. I’ll say, “Yeah, there’s travel that’s feasible this year,” and then at the end of the session, I’ll look at them and say, “You know, this is really odd. Why am I picking up Cincinnati?” Their mouth will fall open and they’ll say, “Oh my goodness, I have my college roommate that has gotten married and moved to Cincinnati and badly wants me to come and visit. I’ve never been outside of Ontario, so I’m nervous.” Then, we’ll talk about it a little bit more. But, the intuition, for the most part, reinforces. Show me how you can take the chart and say, yes, you’re going to Cincinnati! Yes, I know there are horary techniques to say that you’re going northeast and then southwest. I don’t have those skills. I’m not a horary expert. I’m a people person. But, that’s always the kind of intuitive stuff that comes up is a little bit of frosting on the cake.
Kay: I like that, frosting on the cake… How do you feel about the direction of astrology these days? We’ve had a lot of changes and so many different styles of astrology are now getting a lot of attention.
Donna: I find it exciting. I was very resistant to the traditional stuff. I am becoming far less resistant due to a couple of people out there, and I do believe that you can use both. It’s like I’m speaking French and English. Some things you can express better in English and others in French, perhaps. So, I think not only can they peacefully co-exist, but I think perhaps, they can work in tandem. And, I’m sure that would upset some people.
All the new bodies that are coming out… I’m an asteroid junkie. I find it very, very exciting to see all the material that is starting to come out on Sedna and Eris and all of these bodies. I’m not sure what all of it means yet either, but there’s been enough work done to know that I don’t think this stuff is the product of somebody’s wonky fantasy, you know?
Kay: Yes, there’s a lot that seems easily validated.
Donna: I certainly am not going to pull out my list of 10,000 asteroids every time a client comes, but I think awareness of these things allows you to go to that list and say yeah, there are mother issues here. Perhaps, we need to look at Ceres. Perhaps, we need to look at Demeter. You can pick out half a dozen and see; do they add anything to the story the chart is telling? And mostly, they do. When they don’t, you just leave them. There are times that they’re simply echoing what is said in the chart, but there are other times, like the intuition, that they add that little something extra that can be really meaningful for your client.
Kay: Yes. Let’s change course a bit… Do you see any advantage in the astrological organizations getting together? I know you’re always involved as the large organizations come together for UAC. I’ve been thinking a lot about why we have all these different organizations. Wouldn’t we had more power if we had just one? Maybe it would have different departments and divisions to reflect the different personalities of the different organizations. What do you feel about that issue?
Donna: It’s funny. I was giving serious thought to that last night, with the one organization. This makes me nervous though too. I’m a Geezerette. I’m one of the old-timers, and in the beginning, there really was only the AFA and, I think, Church of Light. And then, gradually, we got NCGR, ISAR, AFAN — and I have benefited from joining all of them, but I’ve also been fortunate enough to be able to afford to. It’s not cheap. I think the fear of having one group is much like the fear that we experienced a few years back with certification. Astrologers are rebels and well, “you’re not going to force me into that mold because I’m special. I do it this way.”
I think if there was a live and let live feeling, and a tolerance for differences, it might work. For example, NCGR uses—it’s not Cosmobiology anymore—they make a big deal of Symmetrical Astrology, which is not a big deal in the ISAR world. ISAR has amazing financial astrologers and mundane astrologers. I think there could be live and let live if we weren’t threatened.
I’ll be honest, the big thing I would miss if the groups all merged would be my journals. I love my journals. On the ISAR weekly E-zine, at the end you can subscribe to Marguerite’s Esoteric List or the Financial list or whatever. If there was a way of having one group to join and saying a basic package is this much, and you can then
join various groups, whether it’s NCGR’s special interest groups that also have newsletters, I would be all for it because much time is wasted on competition. And I would say two-thirds of us belong to two or more groups.
I know some people can’t afford to belong to several organizations and I know that UAC, over the years, has caused bad blood between the organizations. Some of those players are no longer with us, but some of them still are. Until they die, we’re going to have to unpack that stupid suitcase every UAC… every UAC… and hear, that 15 years ago, you did this to us. It’s dumb. It’s stupid.
This is supposed to be a profession about growth.
I think if there was a way to devise an organization—I mean, how do the psychologists do it? There are Jungians and psychosynthesis people, and they’re all psychologists or psychiatrists. If there was a way to do that and let people peacefully co-exist with their mundane or esoteric or whatever, I would welcome that to get help get rid of the competition.
Kay: Now what about young astrologers? What advice do you have for the younger astrologers? Obviously, they have so many more options than we had, but they’re breaking into this field now.
Donna: They do have more options. I am going to sound like a Geezerette. I mean, the first thing I would say is, “Earn your stripes.” Through SOTA I have seen and heard some of the younger astrologers that come in feeling very entitled. Regrettably, some of them are very good, but they seem not to understand that most of us who are where we are did fairly long apprenticeships. I know people like to liken us to psychologists. We’re probably more like musicians. We do a lot of gigs for nothing. We do a lot of gigs for break even. After you’ve been a professional for 10 or 15 years, holy cow, you get discovered and you get a conference invite. I’m not saying that’s right either, but I think the young people need to realize that if you have no conference experience and in fact, you have no speaking experience, that’s not ready or prime time. It would perhaps be best to go talk to your local group.
Another thing I’d say is to simply join your local group. Join anything that has a good newsletter or journal that you can afford. Go to conferences. See what your peers are doing. See what the state of the art is. See what you can learn. Then, apply again and don’t get all bent out of shape because someone else, who has 20 years of experience on you, got a slot and you didn’t. Earn your stripes.
Be prepared. Have good material.
Oh, and if you write well, send stuff to the journals. I mean, there are people I’ve encountered, some of the younger people, because they published something. I went, “oh my God, who is this and why have I never heard of them?” You know, good material is good material. So, if you write well, put it out there. Don’t be afraid that somebody is going to steal that idea. At least the book reviewers know that and wouldn’t—it’s harder to steal on that level. I won’t say it’s not done. If you haven’t spoken before your local group, don’t expect to get an invite to a regional conference. If you haven’t done a regional conference, don’t expect to be invited to UAC unless you’ve done a blockbuster book.
There are some brilliant young minds out there. I can think of half a dozen that I am just delighted to know, and I have learned from them, and I’ve got a couple on the SOTA roster this year. So, it’s not impossible to get recognition. Just remember, look in the mirror and say hey, there’s 72 others out there just like you this morning.
Kay: Great. Is there any last thing you’d like to say that I haven’t asked?
Donna: No. I would like to say thank you to people like you, and thank ISAR too, for providing a high-quality journal and a good forum for discussion, because we all grow from it. Beyond that, I can be blatant. Come to SOTA! Support SOTA! (which you have done).
Kay: Yes. Well, I’m really happy that I have the role to interview people like you who have contributed a lot to the growth of astrology by providing books and conferences and teachings. And, I appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule for this interview.
Donna: Thank you. I enjoyed it.
Contact Donna Van Toen at this link.