Haloli Richter, Washington’s pre-eminent astrologer, is addressing her own memorial service on a prerecorded video. She was 64 when she died of cancer on Sept. 11.
“I would never have been able to hold a job in a company because I was sick so much. So self-employment really worked out well,” says Richter, reclining in an armchair in what looks like a living room. The flickering virtual astrologer appears a little unsure about the dynamics of posthumous public speaking, stumbling over “is” and “was” in her sentences. But she manages to end on a high note: “I believe that the soul is energy, and energy doesn’t get lost….Enjoy talking about me—I always love gossip—and know that I’m fine.”
The image vanishes. When the normal lighting switches on—“normal” in this case being projections of blue stars and orange clouds—the 100 or so mourners gathered inside the McLean Community Center spring to life to perform Richter’s final request.
Carrie Lamson, the genial Logan Circle media producer who filmed Richter’s valediction, is making the rounds with a glass of red wine in one hand and an odorous sprig of mugwort in the other. Somebody’s passing out the herb in the back of the room, along with faux rubies to “generate the heart chakra.”
“She can’t divulge her clients,” says the 50-year-old Lamson, waving her mugwort. “But did you know Nancy Sinatra was a client? Nancy Sinatra.” That’s just the beginning of the list, she says. “She had a lot of famous politicians. She wouldn’t say them all.”
Rumors of bereft Congress members echo through the crowd. After all, Richter was the perfect guru for power players: a die-hard businesswoman and fierce Democratic partisan who toughened her readings with German-accented “fuck”s. She made a sport of handicapping elections; shortly before her death, she predicted the nation’s next president. (Bush’s chart promised a cheerful future, whereas Kerry’s was marred with all sorts of nasty aspects. “Her interpretation of it,” says Lamson, “is that George Bush is going back to the ranch and he could be happy—and that Kerry had a mess to deal with.”)
Yet there’s not a senator in sight on this last Sunday in September. Instead, the incense-choked room teems with housewives, public-relations professionals, software experts, a massage therapist, and other astrologers. Robyn Dickey, the White House director of special projects during Bill Clinton’s reign, is here. But Dickey about does it for officialdom.
“You don’t see [the power players], because they wouldn’t want to be seen in public at something like this,” says J. Lee Lehman, dean of academic affairs for Kepler College of Astrological Arts and Sciences in Lynwood, Wash.
Lehman smells prejudice in the apparent no-show of Richter’s more well-known clients. “For years, my take has been that the astrological community is in an exactly analogous situation to the gay community before Stonewall,” she says, referring to the 1969 Greenwich Village brawl between police and cross-dressers. “There were always a lot of [gay people], but you couldn’t find them because everybody was so terrified that they’d be noticed.”
Richter’s coming-out as an astrologer was a long, calculated trip. The daughter of a Nazi Party member, Richter emigrated from Linz, Austria, to Alabama in 1959 in the company of her American aviator husband. She worked her way north through Georgia to D.C. and became friends with Barbara Watters, the noted local astrologer and author of Sex and the Outer Planets.
“She felt…that there are powers here, that it’s a spiritual center,” says Jan Du Plain, CEO of the PR firm Du Plain Enterprises Inc. “[She appreciated] the way Washington was laid out by Lafayette and Banneker. Banneker was an astrologer.” She pauses. “I guess he was an astronomer. Astronomer.”
Richter probably never confused the two professions: She spent 10 years studying her craft before she even performed her first reading. When she did go to work, in the late ’70s, she invoked a whole store of extracelestial knowledge. “Her work was really informed by her influences,” Lamson says. “She understood Jungian psychology. She was way into art history….She read the New Yorker and Vanity Fair.”
Her reputation as a “rational” astrologer gave her good standing in the local political community, where dreams of manipulating the future clash with fears of being labeled a loon. She kept her clients informed of her latest musings via Astrology News, a newsletter stocked with quotes from skeptics Francis Bacon and Oscar Wilde and her own discourses on “mundane astrology,” or mystical interpretations of current events.
Mundane ruminations in her January 2002 newsletter revealed that Osama bin Laden “has four planets in Leo and four in Virgo….His first target is the House of Saud and then the US, the most powerful nation.” In the same issue, she accurately predicted that the “warnings of the administration that we are in for the long haul are correct. The good news: The President will grow stronger and keep the support of the public.” And Vice President Cheney, she divulged, had “blindspots” and scary “health indicators.”
Astrology News went out to around 5,000 people across the globe, according to Bettie Steiger, an executive coach and one of Richter’s longtime clients. The subscribers, says Steiger, included members of Congress and the judiciary at home, and high-ranking government officials in Europe, South America, and the United Nations abroad. But if any of these luminaries are here today, they’re undercover. Even some of Richter’s admitted clients seem to be looking over their shoulders.
Shawn, a short, earnest-eyed woman from Northern Virginia, trekked to Richter’s McLean office years ago to find out if she should leave her job to go back to college. She says the readings were superb. “You could tell her, ‘In 1993, I did such and such. I expected it to work out this way, and it didn’t. Can you tell me why it didn’t?’ And she’d open her ephemeris”—not the body orifice it sounds like, but a datebook of celestial positions.
“I mean, if you look at it,” Shawn continues, “it wouldn’t mean anything to you. It’s just a line of little figures, all these little symbols, just fine print, line after line. She’d look, she’d run her finger along the line, and she would say, ‘Well, of course.’”
But Richter’s expertise be damned; Shawn still doesn’t want her last name printed. “Particularly in an area like Washington, I think a lot of people don’t have a good understanding of what [astrology] is,” she says. “You know what people said about Nancy Reagan. They said she was a flake.”
Lehman is quick to defend Reagan’s astrologer, Joan Quigley, from similar insults. “Joan Quigley had a very good education,” she says. She went to Vassar and also enjoys the opera, as Richter did, “although [Quigley] prefers the Italian style.”
A scholarship in Richter’s name has been established at Kepler College. In two weeks, says Lehman, the mostly online institution will grant the first bachelor’s degrees in astrology in 350 years.
“Haloli’s departure has left a hole in the professional astrological community,” says Lehman. “We can’t replace the person, but we can help bolster the profession….We need to get organized and tell people to stop dropping turds on us.”CP