Cx72 Interview: Micki Pellerano
November 11, 2020
Tell me how you originally came to your study of the Western esoteric tradition.
There were fairly potent currents of Santería in my family growing up – I'm Cuban, my whole family is from Cuba – so I almost, just instinctively, throughout my life have been drawn to that side of it... drawn to the mysterious side of religion. There were several of my great aunts who were very involved with this kind of work, so I gravitated to it that way. As well as strong patrilineal ties with Freemasonry. As I got older this sort of embedded me with this irrational belief – like: "One day, when I'm performing magic..." I remember getting frustrated with myself when I was in the fourth grade. Like, "Listen, you've got to get over this – you're never going to perform magic. Magic isn't real." You know?
But I just couldn't shake that feeling. Then I got into bands like Current 93 and Coil... Their interest in [Austin Osman] Spare, [Aleister] Crowley, etc., guided me more towards those currents of magic. And then I also, right when I went to college, read Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco, and just the citations, just the texts that he quotes in that book alone – it's like, forget it. You've already got an entire library of Hermetic and Rosicrucian resources there, just from reading that book. So, it started in high school with Current 93 and Throbbing Gristle and Coil, and then Eco was a big tipping-off point into the more classical texts.
I had an ex that was really into that book; I've never read it. But I was actually reading about it the other day – this argument that Foucault's Pendulum was entirely intended as satire. What do you think of that?
Academic circles prefer to say, I think, that the book is a giant satire. But it's clear that Eco was so invested, so knowledgeable of the material, that he wants to lay some importance on it, right? Otherwise, he wouldn't have dug that deep. It's almost a question where he's falling back into a self-justification – a justification for being that obsessed with rejected knowledge. Like, "Oh, it's all a ludibrium," which actually is a Rosicrucian motif. Valentin Adreae ultimately came out with: "Oh, this is all just a hoax that we've concocted." So it's almost following that Rosicrucian narrative directly, by that novel doing that to itself. Another interesting case is that book Holy Blood, Holy Grail, where these spurious documents are being deposited into the National Library of Paris about this lineage, and the information that these scholars synthesize from something that was a situationist hoax, turns out to be spiritually and historically valuable in and of itself. The same goes for Eco. The same goes for the mythos that the Rosicrucians constructed around themselves.
So, I know that you are, yourself, a member of a magical order. While respecting the 'sub rosa' nature of it all, will you tell me a little bit about how that has influenced you as an occultist, and in your worldview?
There's something to be said about symbolic language being introduced to the psyche in a systematic way: the way that it's kind of imparted. So that's very useful. Other than that, I don't really know what I could say that wouldn't breach... but it has been useful to be either introduced or re-introduced to symbolism within a structured line of dissemination. I think that has a strong effect on magical understanding. Astrology has that, too: the more, in any kind of esoteric practice that you study, that you are able to go in, you know, and really do the math – say, with zodiacal releasing, you start understanding, "Oh, these things aren't actually arbitrary at all. There's a logic behind them.” So, when you actually study the marrow and the structure of philosophical or magical ideas, you develop an understanding that becomes much more embedded in your physicality.
I was thinking a lot this week about how different it is now in terms of that widening of the gap between esoteric or symbolic understanding and scientific or rational thought: throughout history, there has been a huge overlap between people who were proponents of rational, Enlightenment thinking, and people who were involved in the occult – an overlap between worldviews that hardly exists anymore.
When did you realize that you specifically wanted to pursue a formal study of Western astrology? How did you differentiate this magical lineage and tradition of astrology from this very popular, party-favor, daily horoscope kind of astrology – how did you come to find 'the rabbit hole' with that, so to speak?
That's an awesome question, actually. And I'm going to have to answer it in a very candid and uncivilized way, because it's still kind of unraveling. My understanding of astrology – the parts of it that are really tethered in the way that I work – is based on Qabalah, on my study and self-training in Qabalah that has been going on since 2002. So within that scheme, there is pretty much nothing that does not have a planetary or a zodiacal corollary, right? Qabalistic training provides the mind with a cohesive structure wherein everything is connected. In Eastern traditions, we are told: "All things are one; all things are connected." And systems like Qabalah teach you the threads of how those things are connected. And magic makes use of those threads, via correspondences.
So, my understanding of astrology was purely in the vein of activating that network of Qabalistic parallels, and also, with the tarot. I consider them inseparable. Everything in the tarot has a Qabalistic end and an astrological corollary. So as far as divination goes, I really started out as primarily a tarot reader; astrology was always part of that vocabulary, but it wasn't the core. Gradually, when I really started experimenting with natal charts, I started thinking, "What the fuck, there's just no way – there's really something here."
Before that, I had this idea that I was from this Hermetic school that thought about these things differently. I thought that people who found natal astrology important were drab, or silly, or something. And so I really thought – arrogantly – that I was the only person that was doing astrology from a Hermetic purview. Because my training was purely Qabalistic or Hermetic, and I incorporated those philosophies into my astrology. And then, coincidentally – and I did not know this at the time, because I was not engaged with the astrological community – coincidentally, all of these Hermetic texts had been translated by Robert Hand, Robert Schmidt, Alan White, Demetra George, and Project Hindsight, that were derived from the same Alexandrian sources that a lot of that Hermetic and Qabalistic material comes from. So, Hermes Trismegistus, for instance [laughs] – but then, everybody else, all the Neoplatonists, all that stuff.
So, that had been going on for twenty years. And the astrological community had – it was not a new development – had absorbed those things into its practices. And when I found that out, which really was only two years ago, was when I found people like Austin Coppock, Demetra George, Alan White... all these people who I'm like, "Oh, okay, great – astrology is kind of Hermetic enough for me now."
Absolutely. I originally became interested in astrology in high school, but my understanding of it was much more superficial. I remember, though, when I became involved with the Transcendental Meditation movement, when I was around eighteen, lots of folks in the movement were active practitioners of Vedic, or Jyotish, astrology. I think of Vedic astrology as a tradition which still has that explicitly 'magical' element in tact – with the yagyas, planetary remediation, etc. – these means of strengthening or lessening the influence of one planet or another, which are still very much a part of their everyday understanding of astrology. It felt like the 'missing link' in Western astrology, for me, when I found that astrology was something that could actually be interactive – it kind of completed the system perfectly.
Totally. And it's true: I actually think now, especially, people like Austin [Coppock] are drawing upon these Vedic astrological traditions to enhance the 'interactive' component, as you say. In the West, they were really divorced from each other for so long: you had "magic people" and you had "astrology people," and they were in entirely different camps. Then, with the translation of the Picatrix into English for the first time... Those two things – the translation of the Picatrix and the translation of the astrological Hermetic material – started really bringing those worlds together. People who were more firmly rooted in astrology became more engaged with magic. And people who were more engaged in magic became more attracted to astrology. Almost as a way of supplementing additional magical material into the astrological world, people like Austin began incorporating these Vedic practices of remediation, feeding, and care – all sorts of interactive material.
It's so exciting thinking about how – with regards to many texts of the grimoire tradition, not just the Picatrix – we are only really just beginning to understand the connections between these different translations. We are only just beginning to understand what kind of conversation is happening comparatively between these texts, as works of literature; or even how these texts have moved throughout history. And if we survive this moment of climate crisis, with all these texts coming through from the past to influence us...? We really are living in this very exciting moment where many esoteric ideas are just beginning to be understood, in their full significance.
Definitely. I can't remember what Philip K. Dick book it is, but in one of them, he talks about how the discovery of the Nag Hammadi codices in the 1940s actually created what we would now call an egregore: a living being of thought... that the unearthing of the Nag Hammadi Gnostic material was what really unleashed this being that had been asleep for some time. And that's very much what's happening now.
Mars is squaring Pluto today, and another astrologer said to me, "It's a rough time to be alive." And I said, "Yes, but not for astrologers and magicians." [laughs]
It's kind of the best and worst of times. Everything around us is falling apart, but this actual moment is, in many ways, totally incredible – not only having access to this wide variety of occult texts, but also having the freedom to study or practice without religious persecution. I'm actually reading this book right now, Esotericism & the Academy, and have found myself thinking a lot about the heavy, untold influence the Hermetic tradition has had on science, culture, the arts... which we have barely begun to study and understand. Until quite recently, very few scholars have been willing to touch it.
Absolutely, this draws back to our mention of Eco and “rejected knowledge.” The Picatrix is such a big part of the reason we are able to work with all of this for the first time. During the Renaissance, and even Enlightenment era, the aristocracy was engaged with the Picatrix in a big way... Mary Quinlan McGrath's book Influences – and she's not an astrologer, she's a historian from the University of Chicago – she wrote this book, and it's all about how any Medici, any Borgia, all those families... they wouldn't let a spade hit the ground to start building the palazzo, until the ascendant ruler of whoever was going to live there was rising. And there's also a book that's in print for a really long time, called The Secret Architecture of Our Nation's Capital, about how Washington, DC, was built the exact same way. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson – they all had copies of the Picatrix, in Latin. But it's the first time that now it's a household item: you can just have the Picatrix at home now. Thanks to people like Christopher Warnock, John Michael Greer, and William Kiesel.
Such a fucking wild moment. So, I know that you maintain a visual art practice – will you tell me a little bit about your work?
I started out as an experimental filmmaker; all of the films were either ritual films or almost essays, you might say – treatises on Qabalistic ideas, and what not. That kind of moved into making drawings in galleries – my work almost became ritual emblems when that started happening. I started exploring alchemical or magical ideas, a lot of what was going on inside me at the time, and giving it a visual tangible form. Almost a reverse-method of talisman working, really; you define this inner moment of what's happening to you, giving it an outer expression... in this way you're really able to process the transformation, really able to orient the emotional energy it creates in a magically-directed way. So the drawings have always been geared in that direction. And then, my performance art as well, is always informed by a heavy ritual element. More recently, I've been forging talismans primarily for my own use. I've really been enjoying using collage as a way of creating images that conform to the symbolism to which celestial spirits are drawn, to which they respond... creating them, consecrating them, at very carefully selected astrological moments. You've really made me realize this: astrological magic has formally made its way into my art practice for the first time. I’ve shown them in some magazines and may have an exhibition of them some day – once I determine the proper ritual protocol for that.
"Separation 3" & "Separation 1"
It's funny – I have this extremely practical approach to talismanic magic: "Here's this metal disk; I'm going to ritually inscribe it, with the appropriate imagery, within x or y time frame – and it might look a little busted." Then, on the other hand, your talismanic renderings and collages are really beautiful pieces.
Off the top of your head, do you have any favorite artists who were also practicing esotericists, throughout the ages?
Oh my gosh: it's almost hard to draw a distinction between art and esotericism at any point. I mean, William Blake, you know? Nicolas Poussin... Austin Osman Spare... Gustave Moreau [laughs]...
... Kenneth Anger, Derek Jarman, Marjorie Cameron...
I'm prefacing this next question, of course, with a sincere recognition of the sexual violence Roman Polanski has perpetrated throughout his lifetime, and of the shadow that these actions have cast upon his artistic legacy. But I wanted to talk about the excellent essay you wrote about Polanski's astrology – all of the various factors that were influencing him, astrologically, throughout key points in his life. As an artist, I've been deeply affected by his films, but in terms of his ego persona, as well – he really is this iconic cultural figure who was intimately involved in these psychotic cultural moments. And these moments have been seared into the international psyche – almost to the level of archetype. He was involved, of course, in the Manson murders, which have been absorbed into American folkloric history, in addition to his lived experience of the indescribable trauma of the Holocaust. I'm curious how you originally came to examine his chart, and what prompted that.
Well, I was interested in trying to determine in predictive astrology – what's the distinction between things that people do, and things that will befall us, right? What's the stuff that voluntarily, we're going to put into effect in the world – the actions that we are going to commit – vs. what is going to befall us, due to external circumstances. That was a question that was really gnawing at me. And I thought that Polanski's life would be a great way to examine that: we know that he suffered tragedy, but we also know that he committed crimes – so I thought he would be a great example to work with those predictive techniques in retrospect.
It's hard to think of somebody more controversial...
He's just a great subject for that.
Who are some of your biggest influences, outside of the occult world? Any style icons?
I have so many. I'm really interested in how magic and astrology interface with culture: how they coalesce. So it's not just that there's only art and magic – art over here, style over there – really, it's so hard to say. One thing I'll say is that I've got the South Node in Pisces, and the North Node in Virgo... I've found that Nodal Axis is, for me, this kind of tug-of-war between being like Dee Dee Ramone and trying to be like Joseph Campbell.
As an astrologer, what are some of the things that you're excited about that are incoming, celestially, these next few months or years?
I'm certainly excited about Jupiter getting out of Capricorn at the Winter Solstice; I'm also excited about the Saturn-Jupiter conjunction in Aquarius – it'll be their first conjunction in an air sign in several centuries, and it'll set the course for a 200 year cycle, so that's going to be very interesting. And then, of course, when Jupiter enters Pisces, I'll be very excited. I'm a little disappointed that Venus is either afflicted or combust in every single sign of dignity this year.
That'll be interesting.
Last year was a malefic car crash in Capricorn – it'll finally be over at the Winter Solstice. So I think we’ll all just be kissing the ground, when that happens.
Micki Pellerano is a Cuban-American artist and occult scholar. His work combines elements of drawing, painting, film, performance and ritual derived from both eastern and western esotericism. He maintains a reputed practice in astrology as well as frequent writings, workshops and presentations on artistic and metaphysical topics.
Pellerano has presented at institutions such as MoMA, MoMA PS1, Serpentine UK, The Geffen Contemporary Los Angeles, The Brooklyn Museum, The Museum of Art and Design NYC, The Warhol Museum, ISCP Brooklyn, MIRA Barcelona, ICA Philadelphia, and the 2019 Venice Biennale. His work has also been influential in music through his various contributions to album art and music video for such record labels as Sub Pop, Kranky, and Sacred Bones.
Featured publications include The New York Times, ArtForum, Vice Magazine, Bomb Magazine, Zing Magazine, Hyperallergic, K48, Straight to Hell, as well as Disinformation and Printed Matter Anthologies. Digital appearances include Ultraculture, SF MoMA’s Raw Material and Beyond Reality Podcasts.
Pellerano graduated from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts Experimental Theater Wing in 2003. He began his thoroughgoing study and practice of occultism in 2002, and received initiation into a formal Hermetic Order on 2014. He lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.
Interviewed by M. Elizabeth Scott, November 2020. All original artworks and photographs provided by Micki Pellerano.