– History

by Jim Lewis

The process of AFAN’s development is a story of individuals maturing into collective self-empowerment and the coming of age of a generation of astrologers. The list of AFAN’s accomplishments that follows is probably far from complete and, in any case, omits the most important work: the countless hours of organizing, debating, arguing, and, above all, learning to work with others that is AFAN. We began as individuals seeking to establish positions in our profession through service, and have evolved into a cohesive and unified group with shared ideals and the capacity to see some of them through to fruition. Click on these links to learn more:

Association of Professional Astrologers

Astrologically, the organizational activity that gave birth to AFAN can be traced to the transit through Sagittarius of Neptune, Uranus, and finally Jupiter and Saturn, between 1970 and 1989. Since Sagittarius is the 11th “house” in relation to Aquarius, the sign most often thought to rule astrology, these two decades of transits by outer planets might reasonably have been expected to result in upheaval and growth in the organizational structures that support astrological practice.

These transits coincided with two external conditions which made AFAN a necessity: A new generation of astrologers was maturing in the late 1970s and ’80s, and they were met with reluctance from the then-dominant organization, the American Federation of Astrologers (AFA), to incorporate them in a meaningful way into its power structure.

Discontent with this state of affairs surfaced biennially during business meetings at the AFA conventions, when members of the “out group” would routinely beseech, excoriate, and condemn the AFA Board of Directors. These insurrections became almost expected, looked-forward-to events enlivening otherwise lifeless organizational proceedings. Prominent members of this new generation led walkouts from several conventions, but, given the carefully maintained secrecy of the AFA’s membership list, effective political activity or follow-through outside of the conventions remained impossible.

At the 1980 AFA convention, this pattern was broken by the organization of the Association for Professional Astrologers (APA), whose name was approved at 5:21 PM, August 8, 1980, in a room on the 35th floor of the New Orleans Marriott. The organization dedicated itself to “create and support the profession of astrology amongst astrologers and the public,” and it actually survived for several months after the 1980 convention, finally succumbing to the difficulty in recruiting members with its limited resources, and the geographical separation of its various founders. It did, however, establish a collective will within some leaders of the younger generation to form a new organization. At that time, the AFA was mostly concerned with selling books and putting on its biennial conventions, and the National Council for Geocosmic Research (NCGR), which had broken off from the AFA in 1972, was mostly occupied with astrological research and scholarly activity. No one was dealing with the interface of the astrological profession and the larger society. And no one had any plan to open up their organizational hierarchy to grass-roots input.

The Birth of AFAN

Emboldened by the ephemeral organization of the APA, some of its founders began to plan another rebellion well in advance of the next AFA convention, which was to be held in Chicago in 1982. Preceded by informal meetings and telephone contact, the organizing got serious at an Aquarian Revelation Conference (ARC) in Michigan that took place several months before the upcoming Chicago AFA. At ARC, money was raised and plans laid to rent a room at the Chicago Marriott and to call a meeting to publicly discuss what could be done about the AFA leadership’s reluctance to address issues that seemed important to an emerging generation of professional astrologers.

At the AFA convention, $300, charged to an organizer’s Visa card, secured the room at the Marriott for the night of Sunday, August 31, 1982. Flyers were printed and handed out, and on the appointed evening some 300 AFA members showed up, demonstrating that discontent with the governing board was widespread and that there was a collective will to at least talk about doing something. An attempt by the AFA Executive Secretary to disband the meeting using hotel security outraged attendees and was thwarted by producing the receipt for the room rental. At 11:52 PM CDT, the name “AFA Network (AFAN)” was approved by those present. Purposes were mildly and broadly identified to be “to create a network among members [of the AFA], and to improve the communications between membership and the board of directors of the AFA.”

Committees were formed including Bylaws, Newsletter and Networking, Professionalism, Organizational Liaison, Directory and Membership, and Fundraising. To identify the chairs and active members of these committees would require listing dozens of individuals who unselfishly have contributed many hours of time to AFAN immediately following its organization, and over the years since then.
A second meeting took place on Tuesday night, and a Negotiating Committee was appointed to meet with the AFA Executive Secretary. As a result of this meeting, it was agreed that a Networker would sit on the AFA Nominating Committee, from which position he or she supposedly would be able to suggest nominations for the upcoming election of the AFA Board of Directors, thus opening the AFA governing body to input from the new Network. In these early days, AFAN was seen only as a group of dissatisfied AFA members seeking to have their voice heard within the established institution. The lesson of the APA’s difficulty in sustaining a new organization had been taken to heart. But AFAN had been born.

Legal and Humanitarian Initiatives

It quickly became obvious that influence on the AFA board would be long in coming: Two individuals mildly supportive of AFAN’s goals were among the sixteen nominations published by the AFA for the twelve board positions to be elected early in 1983. However, no campaigning was permitted, the ballot counting was not open to Network scrutiny, and all incumbents hurriedly decided to run for reelection. Not surprisingly, neither new candidate was seated on the board in an election in which AFAN was denied participation in the vote tally. This disappointment made it clear that, to accomplish its goals, the Network would have to continue on its own for an indeterminate period of time. But the existence of the initial meeting’s membership sign-up list, which quickly grew to 500 enthusiastic supporters, and the occurrence of various crises in the community, allowed this to take place. Sustained by contributions, the Newsletter maintained the contact that had been initiated in Chicago. The Negotiating Committee continued to meet and to act as central clearing-house for information.

Apart from the vain attempts to reform the AFA, the first crisis in which the new organization took an active role was the illness of AFAN founder and beloved astrological community member, Johnny Lister. After feeling ill immediately following the Chicago convention, he was diagnosed with acute leukemia in late October 1982. AFAN spearheaded an effort to collect money so that he could undergo costly alternative treatments at the Gerson Therapy Center in Chula Vista and, along with the NCGR, eventually facilitated raising some $7,000. Johnny was overjoyed, declaring that he felt he was “in the arms of every astrologer in the country.” Nevertheless, he passed away in January 1983, leaving behind an awareness of the absence of an organization dedicated to professional astrologers and their needs and relationship to the larger society. A memorial fund bearing his name, and specifically designated to assist astrologers in similar difficulties, still exists.

As hopes of cooperating with the AFA foundered in early 1983, another crisis impelled AFAN to break new ground. The Mercury Limited Bookstore in West Allis, Wisconsin, was targeted by religious fundamentalists and closed by police after hosting a “Sunday Social and Psychic Fair.” The new Network responded: The AFAN Newsletter coordinated a national letter-writing campaign to city officials and local media which had a measurable effect on the Common Council. At a Council meeting, local members of the metaphysical community, organized by astrologers and the AFAN phone tree, took a stand against a proposed ordinance prohibiting the practice of astrology. The vote went 6 to 1 against the anti-astrology ordinance, and was taken at 8:40 PM CDT, May 17,1983. Jupiter and Uranus were rising conjunct in Sagittarius, as Mars in Gemini set.

The Sunderbruch Affair

Jupiter and Uranus were also exactly conjunct in Aries in the natal chart of an astrologer named Shirley Sunderbruch (August 6, 1927; 5:20 A.M., San Francisco), who was destined to play a central role in the next chapter of AFAN’s history. A middle-aged practicing astrologer, Shirley lived quietly in her home in San Jose, California, with her retired husband, Frank. On April 15, 1983, she received a $10 deposit in a letter from a woman who requested a reading and, the following day, the young woman appeared, though three hours late for her appointment. Forty minutes into the reading, a loud knock was heard at Shirley’s door. When she opened it, she was forced against the wall by four uniformed police officers with holster guards opened.

Shirley was handcuffed and told she was “under arrest for fortune-telling.” Her astrological books, tape recorder, and even prepared readings were confiscated, and she only escaped being taken away to jail through the efforts of her husband, who was able to convince the brave upholders of the law that Shirley suffered from heart problems. The five violations with which she was originally charged were later reduced to two: fortune-telling and doing business without a license — this last despite the fact that San Jose had not issued fortune-telling licenses for ten years. To add insult to injury, the manager of her retirement community evicted her and her husband.

The Sunderbruch case was to unite astrologers behind AFAN for its duration. Although many were timorous about getting involved in legal matters, citing the community’s lack of experience and resources, others argued that the right to practice our profession was on the line; we would have to learn along the way. The activists’ opinions prevailed; AFAN’s Legal Committee was launched. Shirley was eventually exonerated under the Azusa decision, two years later.

Meanwhile, AFAN was also experimenting in other areas of astrological networking: Under the catchy title “Project Alexandria,” the possibility of using computers (still quite novel and expensive at that time) to catalogue and index all astrological writings was conceived. This was initiated by a Networker’s frustration when she discovered that not only was the AFA library inaccessible, but no library anywhere in the world at that time had a complete database of astrological books and articles, or any idea where to find them. It is presently unclear if this is still the case. AFAN’s reputation was at this time spreading worldwide: In 1983 newsletters, correspondence was included from Australia, Canada and the U.K.

A New Organization

As it became clear in late 1983 that AFAN could not penetrate the AFA’s formidable legal fortress and would have to implement its own agenda over the long term, the Negotiating Committee, elected by acclamation at the original Chicago meetings to interface with the AFA, was expanded into the first twelve-member Steering Committee, empowered to direct the Network until elections could be held in July 1984 at an upcoming convention. The first “Network Day” was announced to take place March 24, 1984, when bookstore owners and others would organize events or workshops and donate proceeds to AFAN. In keeping with AFAN’s decentralized model, Network Day was conceived of to foster communication and outreach in the astrological community as well as to raise revenues. As AFAN approached its first anniversary, the Advisory Council was created and plans were made for the World Astrologers Directory.

On the legal front, constitutional law attorney Peter Stromer was retained by AFAN, which raised upwards of $4,000 for Shirley Sunderbruch’s legal defense, all of it from astrological businesses who were quick to see the wisdom of defending an astrologer’s right to practice. Other instances of legal harassment were heard from in Mobile, Alabama; Pleasanton, California; and Long Island, New York; it was hoped that putting all of AFAN’s assets on the line for Shirley’s case would have a positive effect on astrologers being targeted for arrest all over the country.

By January 1984, AFAN’s Legal Committee was advising astrologers in the cities named above, as well as in Milwaukee and Los Angeles, where the County Board of Supervisors, at a raucous hearing, well-attended by AFAN supporters, were persuaded not to reenact an archaic anti-astrology law, and voted down another that would have made astrology a misdemeanor subject to a $500 fine. Of all the various areas of concern undertaken by AFAN in its first year, it was clear that legal defense was both the most emergent and the most necessary. Its necessity defined the Network. By mid-1984, unknown to most involved in it, AFAN’s patterns had been established and would change little during the next ten years.

The first Steering Committee elections was scheduled, with twenty nominations for twelve positions. Since the biennial AFA convention was again to take place in Chicago in July 1984, the election was planned to be held then. But the AFA, fearful of more organizing on its turf, had made it clear that AFAN was not welcome at its gathering: Not only were the attendees to sign a quasi-legal “covenant,” promising not to advertise or engage in any political organizing on the hotel’s private property, but no AFA business meeting was scheduled, despite its requirement in the AFA Bylaws. So AFAN planned a counter-convention, renting space at the neighboring Hotel Continental, one block from the AFA’s Marriott. Special room rates were offered at the Continental, and airfare discounts advertised.

AFAN’s counter-convention featured, in addition to open elections for the AFAN Steering Committee, the type of community concerns that had so long been lacking in the astrological community: In open meetings, various proposals were agreed on by a majority vote of those attending after free and lengthy discussion; the new Steering Committee was elected; and principles of the AFAN bylaws were created in open discussion. Neil Michelsen made an emotional appearance to voice his disagreement with the AFA. He was subsequently expelled from that organization in September 1984 for questioning its election procedures. An international outreach committee was founded, and coordinators and advisors were formally confirmed.

The year 1985 found AFAN deeply involved in legal defense as the Sunderbruch case worked its way through the California courts, other legal problems surfaced. Near Cleveland, Ohio, a federal district court found an anti-astrology law unconstitutional, influenced by material and testimony submitted by AFAN. Media Watch was foreshadowed in a proposal for a comprehensive public relations program, and the newsletter printed the first “What to Do in a Legal Crisis,” outlining the steps to take if arrested for fortune-telling. In Yonkers, New York, nineteen people were arrested at a psychic fair, within days of the long-awaited Azusa decision which resulted in Shirley Sunderbruch’s exoneration.

On August 15, 1985, by a 6-to-1 majority, the California Supreme Court affirmed, in Spiritual Psychic Church of Truth, Incorporated, versus the City of Azusa, that prohibitions of astrology were infringements on the freedom-of-speech guarantees in the California and U.S. constitutions. This overruled Bartha, the previous relevant decision, which asserted that astrology was “commercial speech” and therefore not subject to First Amendment guarantees. This Azusa ruling set back the forces that have tried to legislate against astrology and, while officially effective only in California, it is doubtless carefully read in any other jurisdiction. Shirley Sunderbruch’s case had been on hold pending resolution of this case, and upon announcement of Azusa, all charges were dropped. Nevertheless, the toll had been high, and Shirley left California to retire in Arkansas. Concurrently, Concord, California, and Washington state anti-astrology laws were also effectively stalled by the AFAN Legal Committee, newly empowered by Azusa.

The United Astrology Congress

The July 1985 Newsletter announced plans for the first United Astrology Congress (UAC), to be held at the Bahia Hotel in San Diego at the end of June 1986. Many announced revolutionary innovations were championed by AFAN: profit-sharing for speakers, a no-star equal billing program, cooperation between AFAN, the NCGR and the International Society for Astrological Research (ISAR), the first astrology trade show, a discount bookstore, and many other popular features, all planned and carried out with volunteer effort. UAC proved so successful that two additional hotels had to be booked to handle the overflow from the Bahia. Those who attended remember a spirit of hopefulness and optimism as a maturing astrological community took its fate into its own hands.

Legal problems continued unabated, however: Springfield, Oregon; Gulfport, Florida; El Cerrito, California; and San Pablo, California all considered various variations on now-unconstitutional anti-astrology statutes, attempting to circumvent the Azusa decision. So far none has withstood constitutional scrutiny. 1986 can also be remembered for the infamous Carlson experiment, in which it was supposedly proven that astrologers can’t match horoscopes with a psychological profile widely used by professional psychologists, the California Personality Inventory (CPI). But in his conclusions, the scientist failed to take into account an important fact noted in his article: the subjects of the experiment were themselves unable to recognize their own CPI profiles! Carlson’s reply to an article in the Newsletter panning his experiment was printed alongside Prof. Hans Eysenck’s careful criticism of it.

Steering Committee elections were held at UAC, and eight new members took places vacated by stalwarts who had been with the Network since its inception. This marked an important turning point at which the founders recognized that if the organization were to stand on its own, two conditions had to be met: There had to be orderly turnover in leadership, and this had to be facilitated by written bylaws that crystallized the idealistic founding principles into workable procedures.

Media Watch

Aside from creating structures necessary for its survival, AFAN’s energy had been directed mostly toward legal struggles. In mid-1985, the second major function of the Network was created with the Media Watch program, which aimed to effect positive change in the way the media portray astrology, through a program of watch-dogging, proactive outreach with accurate information about astrology, and the training and identification of media-savvy spokespersons to present astrology in a favorable light. Local and regional Coordinators were enlisted to coordinate media efforts on a regional basis, and guidelines were published on how to effectively lobby local media and assure positive presentations. The Media Watch Committee also set about the creation of position papers which would realistically and definitively describe current astrological practice and astrology’s limitations, and address other matters often misrepresented in the mainstream media.

The big news in 1987 was the ratification by Networkers of the Bylaws, which had been labored over for nearly a year by three indefatigable Networkers. Several contentious issues were decided directly by Networkers in an exhaustingly detailed ballot that presented the Bylaws along with various alternative versions of the disputed issues. Any future attempt to reform the AFA was formally abandoned by the results of this election, and the organization’s name was officially changed to its present form: The Association for Astrological Networking.

Super majority rule was established on the Steering Committee, and various committees and procedures were implemented. The result empowered AFAN to apply for nonprofit status after incorporating under California law on January 29, 1988, 2:12 PM PST, San Francisco.
In Zurich, at the third European World Congress, AFAN led a movement toward world networking by hosting a reception at which delegates from some twenty countries agreed to put aside their differences and to network under the AFAN model. Plans were already being made for UAC ’89 to be held in New Orleans, and legal concerns continued on a variety of fronts. Media Watch finalized plans for position papers, and thirty Media Watch “reporters,” trained to survey the media and to answer false representations of astrology, were identified. August saw AFAN Australia conceived but, in this instance, alas, insufficient networking had been done with the vigorous and very active Fraternity of Australian Astrologers, and little came of the new organization.

Throughout 1988, AFAN’s emphasis was on Media Watch and, while the legal front seemed to have fewer crises than in earlier years, brush fires had to be extinguished in many areas, particularly in Pennsylvania and Oklahoma.

In the wake of the Saturn-Neptune conjunction in Capricorn, AFAN’s present chart came into being as the IRS approved nonprofit status and informed the Treasurer of this fact on December 7, 1989, 7:37 PM EST, in Alpharetta, Georgia. Moreover, Networkers approved the continuation of the Network (the Bylaws mandate a reaffirmation of the community’s commitment to support AFAN every 7 years) by almost unanimous accord. Nancy Reagan and Joan Quigley put astrology on the front pages around this time, and the weakness of a network structure became apparent when AFAN proved unable to seize the day as well as might have been wished. Still, many AFAN stalwarts endeavored to elevate the public discourse from the depths to which it quickly descended.

In 1990, a new Steering Committee was seated featuring many returning founders and, for the first time, individuals who held important positions in NCGR. UAC ’89 had been a smashing success, and AFAN made its presence felt at the Fourth World Congress in Lucerne, where progress was made toward world networking and the establishment of “ARC Nodes” in dozens of countries. Nodes are computer links in a worldwide network of astrological organizations and individuals, a concept pioneered by AFAN, which will enable international exchange of information, sharing resources, and coordination of worldwide efforts on behalf of astrology. The first attempt to amend the Bylaws failed, as a proposal to allow paid advertising in the Newsletter was voted down.

The 1991 Newsletters focused on international activity particularly in the newly de-sovieted Russian Republic, South Africa, and the U.K. Missouri, Brevard County, Florida, and Pennsylvania legal concerns continued to occupy the Legal Committee, while in Salinas, California, a particularly onerous anti-astrology law was repealed thanks to Network activists. Plans for UAC ’92 were in full gear.

Another crisis in Los Angeles — an attempt to pass a slick “licensing” ordinance designed to circumvent the outright prohibition made impossible by Azusa — mobilized the Network. City Council members were lobbied, a war chest was raised, and numerous hearings were attended by AFAN partisans. The ordinance disappeared into limbo after several attempts by the police to pass it.

The 1992 Steering Committee took its seat after the most successful UAC to date. Simultaneous to this election, the first amendment of the Bylaws was passed, permitting a secretary to be appointed who doesn’t sit on the Steering Committee. The twin responsibilities of legal defense and Media Watch have been vigorously accepted by this current Steering Committee, into whose hands the now long-lived goals and objectives of the Network are entrusted. Also, perhaps for the first time, some discussion has been directed toward the possibility of outreach to the AFA, though this will probably remain a task for future committees to implement.

AFAN’s Future

As the list of legal confrontations since Azusa amply illustrates, local police authorities (always on the lookout for easy arrests in an age of really dangerous crimes), along with fundamentalist bigots, seem to have unlimited perseverance (and resources) in their efforts to circumvent the First Amendment and criminalize the practice of astrology. The current thrust seems to center on “licensing” and zoning regulations which, while not prohibiting astrology outright, make its practice impossible by establishing burdensome standards which “home offices” must observe. When these standards do not apply equally to other professions, such as accountants or chiropractors, unconstitutional discrimination usually renders the regulation unenforceable but only if AFAN is there to challenge it.

Media Watch remains a job far from completed, but perhaps one even more important than legal defense, as it is the opinion the public retains about astrology that will ultimately determine its legality.

Moving on from its origins as a reformist movement within the AFA, AFAN has evolved into an institution of critical importance to any astrologer seeking to practice his or her craft in modern society. As an organization, it has particularly pioneered:

  • A new form of organizational management based on nonhierarchical, grassroots, participatory democracy.
  • The idea of “networking” — sharing ideas throughout a decentralized structure linked mostly by common interest.
  • Leadership training through mandated outreach to new activists.
  • Profit sharing and “sweat equity” at conferences.
  • “Tracks” as a conference structure.
  • Sharing of resources and de-emphasis of a “star system.”
  • Bylaws structures that encourage organizing and projects originating from the membership rather than from leadership.

Astrologers should see AFAN as their link into the larger community of which they are a part, a mobilizing link that can be used to promote knowledge and research as well as to defend us from our enemies and adversaries in society at large. AFAN is here to stay!

Of course, AFAN has succeeded because of the hundreds of individuals who have contributed energy to it over the years. Some, however, have distinguished themselves by volunteering to serve on Steering Committees, in the “APA,” and in other essential functions, and the names of all such are listed below. We owe them all special thanks:

Jeffe Anders, Robin Armstrong, Howard Berg, Anne Black, Gina Ceaglio, Sheila Conrad, Mary Downing, Michael Erlewine, James Eshelman, Mary Ellen Glass, Bruce Hamerslough, Rosie Harris, Madalyn Louise Hillis, Lillian Huber, Richard Idemon, Toni Imhoff, Kenneth Irving, Jayj Jacobs, Jeff Jawer, Karen Johns, Glenn Kaufmann, Joan Kendig, Roberta Kerr, Rick Levine, Jim Lewis, Johnny Lister, Jeanne Long, Michael Lutin, Marion March, Barbara May, Ray Merriman, Buz Meyers, David Mosley, Sandra Mosley, Michael Munkasey, Gilbert Navarro, Richard Nolle, Ed Perrone, Haloli Richter, Leyla Rael Rudhyar, Carol Rushman, Barbara Schermer, Phil Sedgewick, Sandra Leigh Serio, Gloria Star, Erin Sullivan, Angel Thompson, Noel Tyl, Donna Van Toen, Julia Wagner, Henry Weingarten, Ted Wilkinsen, Cynthia Withers and doubtless countless others who, though holding no committee position, nurtured the Network in its growth to maturity.

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