COVER LOGIN HOROSCOPES FEATURED ARCHIVES ABOUT PHOTO Cosmic Confidential :: The 12th Annual of Planet Waves :: 2010

PCB cleanup outside Parker Theatre, State University of
New York at New Paltz, January 1992. Photo by Student
Leader News Service. This spill was caused when maintenance
workers allowed pipes to freeze in a contaminated
building, spilling millions of gallons of water to the
outer environment.

Why I Became an Astrologer

By Eric Francis | Planet Waves for March 2000

Background Article Relating to This Story

P l a n e t  W a v e s  D i g i t a l  M e d i a

Usually, when we think of the global environmental crisis, we deal in huge abstractions like the ozone hole over Antarctica, global warming, or lead sprayed all over the northern hemisphere by years of burning gasoline. When we think of "corporations" or "the government" and want to blame them for this, it's an incomprehensible monolith, not a tangible name or face.

And usually, when we think of spiritual lessons, we think in equally abstract terms such as unconditional love, overcoming fear, or seeking the truth about the universe. And we think of these lessons being learned by studying sacred texts, not government documents.

One cold morning in December 1991, a car skidded off an icy country road in my then-home town of New Paltz, New York and collided with a utility pole. Two miles away, the electrical power system on the State University of New York at New Paltz campus experienced a chain-reaction of toxic chemical fires and explosions. These spewed extremely toxic contamination into dorms, a theatre and a huge science building, and out into the surrounding environment, sewer systems, and just about anywhere anyone looked. The accident happened at 6:28 am EST on Dec. 29, 1991, in case you want to chart it.

On that morning, you could say with great accuracy that hell popped through to our world, and, in my perception, all abstractions vanished. All distinctions between "political crisis" and a "spiritual crisis" or "personal crisis" vanished for me as well. And many of the people who were involved in deceiving and contaminating students appeared before our eyes, face to face.

The chemicals that were released in the fires and explosions are called PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, and when these burn they release dioxins, which are even more lethal by-products. What this brew was doing in electrical equipment in college dormitories more than 10 years after the federal government had banned it became a very interesting tale to unravel -- but how they got there in the first place was an even more demented story that took about three years to figure out.

With students miraculously away on holiday break, within the space of about one hour, New Paltz, a kind of Anytown, Planet Earth, was transformed from a sleepy little campus village into a chemical waste disaster zone. Set against the backdrop of the beautiful Shawangunk Mountains, foothills to the Catskills, hazardous materials crews roamed around in level-A environmental protection, similar to what was used at Chernobyl or Three Mile Island, breathing bottled air, taking the first of hundreds of thousands of air, soil, water and wipe samples. Crews from the Red Cross and the Salvation Army joined hundreds of firemen, rescue workers and chemical disaster crews who responded from a local IBM facility following some long-tucked-away government contingency plan. In the end, the cleanup would cost more than $50 million and take six years; but with chemical waste disasters, the end is never told.

At the time, I was the editor of something called Student Leader News Service, a little news bureau of my own creation, staffed by my friends, my cats and a few Macintoshes. We specialized in sending hard-news articles about government issues affecting education, student activism and other gritty stuff to student newspapers around the state. Our living-room office was three blocks from the campus. Now as it was, we could have invented the bumper sticker that says "Shit Happens" because every time we blinked our eyes, another major story landed in our laps. But this one took the cake. And, in perfect form, state officials, many of whom we knew quite well, began a campaign of lies and denials that are typical of even a fairly minor story. But now, lives were at stake, because the plan was to move 700 students back into their dormitory rooms without a real cleanup of the buildings.


In hindsight, the elements of a first-class religious, cosmic or evolutionary struggle were all in place. First, there was a very tangible sense of grave danger, which many would say is the opposite of Divine protection. Second, there was a confrontation with intentional deception, otherwise known as lies, yet lies so big, so complicated and so malicious, it was difficult to even see them at first. Third, there was a confrontation with an enemy, and the notion of an enemy is not something that is usually looked upon as particularly aligned with most spiritual traditions, in which we're supposed to love everyone and turn the other cheek on our enemies. And this enemy was seemingly much more powerful than a few students working to get to the truth and publish it -- in this case, the state government, and a variety of corporate entities who were involved in a much larger cover-up that went back 50 years.

Questions like, "Why here?" and "What do we do now?" and "What will happen next?" spun through our minds, typical of what people experience in a so-called act of God.

But a fourth factor that quickly emerged, one that I was not expecting, and one that came as a far greater shock than the extent of the lies being told by the government: the denial of those who were affected. Most students and faculty, as in about 99% of them, did not want to know about the problem. When the state opened up two of the four contaminated dorms a month after the explosions, there were protests against the little environmental movement that had sprung up in the wake of the disaster. Faculty members screamed and demanded that the buildings be re-opened and that so-called "agitators" leave the campus, more concerned about their jobs than about the safety of their students. Most parents and students expressed no interest in what had happened, secure that the state had "deemed it safe," and insisting on getting into their dorms. Many parents dropped their kids off on the campus, and turned around and went home. And it's these thick blankets of denial that most spiritual paths profess to help remove from human consciousness.

It was a news story, and the facts were compelling, but out of psychological necessity I began to look at it all philosophically. What was this denial factor? What values were beneath it? Why did it seem that the more accurate my articles became, the better documented and the more clear about the dangers, the less people believed them? And was this "educational experience" at an academic institution, understood to be a microcosm of society, a model of how the larger world was reacting to the rest of the environmental crisis? Many factors matched: an obvious problem whitewashed with official statements of safety; economic concerns (keeping the campus open) put above human concerns (the safety of students and local residents); and beneath it, a crisis too big to understand or face without a lot of fear coming up. In a very real way, everyone who worked on the PCB story, probably about two dozen of my friends over the years, had to make peace with their own power, and with the larger intelligence that seemed to be orchestrating our progress, the vast number of synchronicities and lucky breaks that lead to our unfolding the truth of what happened. One could not feel meaningless and still work on the story. Angry, perhaps, or overwhelmed, but not meaningless.

Slowly, I began to get a grasp on what PCBs and dioxin were -- chemicals that are now "ubiquitous" in the environment: that is to say that because of years of pollution running throughout the food chain, they are now lodged in the cells of every human, every animal and many plants. They are in every breath of air we take. I began to understand that these chemicals affect the immune system, the genetic system, the neurological system and the hormones, and can become underlying causes for so many illnesses it's impossible to make a complete list. They are called "cancer-causing," but in reality cancer is a high-dose effect, or something that comes out at the end of a long series of far more subtle problems.

To understand, to accept, that PCBs and dioxins are really dangerous takes reorienting one's whole sense of reality. Their effect is arguably metaphysical or paranormal: working in body at a level of a few parts-per-trillion, that is, a few molecules of dioxin per trillion molecules of natural tissue, scientists are seeing far-reaching health effects. (For reference, a part-per-trillion is like a single drop of a substance in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.) This points to the obvious fact that, though there are many places like New Paltz where the concentrations are significantly higher, and people who live in contaminated buildings will get long-term exposure, we are all in the same boat. PCBs and dioxins are found at every latitude on every continent.

In the course of doing this work, I began to collect documents entered as evidence in federal court that said that the PCB manufacturers were aware of these and other problems going back decades. That a few men could participate in the contamination of the globe, execute the poisoning of our one and only Earth for profit, then create a vast network of deception to avoid legal liability and bad press, required a total change in my thinking, and I was no novice to exposing cover-ups. It was just larger, more horrifying and more complex than I ever imagined human events could be. As I pursued the story, I was continually shocked or on the brink of yet another revelation about the nature of how it is that the planet is becoming slowly contaminated -- that there is, in reality, a plan to do it.

So, to sum up. At this point I had learned that chemical accidents can happen anywhere, at anytime, but that they're not really accidents.

I had learned that they are usually intentional, based in the legal definition of "intent" -- that certain people "knew or should have known" that they could happen, and could have acted to stop them in advance, but did not.

I learned that they did not act to stop the problem because of greed, that is to say, the profit motive, and to protect their own jobs, and to stand out of the way of legal liability.

I learned that the whole world was living in an invisible, silent ecological crisis, reaching into every cell of every living creature, and with the potential to extend through time for many generations.

And I learned that people were not really interested in doing anything about it, or in looking at why they were not interested, even if it directly affected them, and even if the choices to avoid serious poisoning or potential poisoning were fairly simple and cost no money.

This last notion was the most shocking to my reality framework. People would say they did not want to move out of a contaminated building because their father would get angry at them, or because they would rather live with their friends, those who refused to leave, than make new friends in a different building. Others said that "something has to kill you," and others, knowing nothing, argued that dioxin wasn't that serious.

Hearing this again and again, while at the same time living with the documented truth, I began to go a little mad. When one's entire framework of reality is being rearranged, it's usually a good idea to have reference points to maintain one's sanity.

As this work proceeded, I needed a hobby, and soon found myself studying Tarot and astrology. By day I would sift through piles of occult government documents and corporate memos, and by night, pour over the ephemeris, the Cabala and tarot cards, supposedly "the occult," but which I bought freely in a book store. Those of you who have embarked on this path know what an introspective journey it is. I started to see the themes in my astrological chart that pointed straight to environmental journalism, and pointed to the timing of these events. I began to understand my Saturn return in the context of my struggle with the state government and the corporations that had been responsibile for the creation of PCBs.

In 1994, my findings were published in Sierra magazine as a cover story entitled Conspiracy of Silence. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-California) was working with the Sierra Club to arrange Congressional hearings on the PCB scandal the story uncovered. Working as a reporter for the Woodstock Times, with a maverick state scientist named Ward Stone, I was able to prove and publish the story that a long-opened dormitory was indeed badly contaminated, meaning it was likely that others were as well, particularly ones that had not been properly tested. Secret negotiations with Gov. Mario Cuomo's staff began through the local political machine to shut down the most contaminated building, Gage Hall. The prior year, I had sued the State of New York in federal court after officials attempted to block my access to the New Paltz campus, and the state had now folded its cards, paid me a settlement, and agreed to leave my work alone.

But in the end, congressional hearings were pre-empted by another issue, Gage Hall stayed open and is to this day (along with three other contaminated dorms: Bliss, Capen and Scudder halls), and though a I was working on the local story under the protection of a federal judge's order, students were less interested than ever in hearing about the problem. It had been reduced to a "controversy."

I began to notice that most of what I was spreading through my work was fear rather than understanding, and that, in a sense, people were not ready to hear the basic facts about what was happening to them and around them. And it was not my intention to spread fear, but rather, empower people with information. It wasn't working.

At that point I stepped aside. It was all too cosmic. All too psychological. All too strange, and pushing the limits of what I knew about life. The known world, the world of chemicals and politics, no longer seemed like anyplace I could be effective. There seemed to be no way that the necessary changes could, or not at first.

I took the winter off from writing, finally resting from the three most intense years of my life, and dedicated myself to the study of astrology, which is the study of human nature, and of the relationships between people and cosmic events. After seven years of practice with Tarot, astrology came easily. In the spring of 1995, I began writing horoscopes for a little newspaper called Free Time in Poughkeepsie, NY. And, after answering calls for the Jackie Stallone Psychic Circle all winter to pay the rent, I started my private practice, working one-on-one with people on understanding why any of this could be possible. Why would people want to contaminate themselves, why they would stay in relationships that were slowly killing them, and why they would choose to sleep through life when so much more is available, when our existence here has so much more potential, so much more to offer? And how can we get to that place of an aware, creative and loving life?

The answers to these questions, or the questions themselves, for that matter, are nothing you will typically read about in newspapers or magazines, that's for sure. ++

To Be Continued.

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