Inside Issue #19: Astrology of Disability ft. Johanna Hedva

Photo credit: Pamila Payne  Nails by The Nail Witch

Photo credit: Pamila Payne 

Nails by The Nail Witch


Johanna Hedva is a Taurus, performance artist, practicing witch, and writer. Their piece, “Sick Woman Theory,” details the daily frustrations of living with chronic illness and living alongside a non-normative body. In the essay, Hedva recounts being unable to attend a Black Lives Matter protest due to being bed-ridden writing, “I listened to the sounds of the marches as they drifted up to my window. Attached to the bed, I rose up my sick woman fist, in solidarity.” It is images like this that present the reader with an immersive account of existing with chronic illness or disability.

Last summer, I stumbled across a video of Johanna giving a talk concerning sick woman theory, with their cane resting beside their chair. I was struck by visual presence of the cane, a visual signifier of disability, coexisting beside Johanna, the person giving the talk and thus, the authority in the room. It is a rarity in the mainstream media to see people with disabilities existing in positions of power, rather than those of scrutiny, especially within Westernized medicine which emphasizes cures and linear paths to healing. When we are given mainstream representations of disability they are predominantly white (or they serve as inspiration porn.) Oftentimes mainstream narratives concerning disability pivot on an axis of triumph, wherein disabled characters learn to triumph over their disability rather than live with it. My favorite phrase in “Sick Woman Theory,” is, “My body is a prison of pain so I want to leave it like a mystic, but I also want to love it and want it to matter politically.”

I think about how one’s experience of reality is often grounded in the experience of the body. In my case, my body is grounded in experiences of pain, muscle tightness, soreness, and other instances of discomfort coincide with other everyday experiences like buying falafel or writing this piece. I think of how often I’ve longed to leave my body like a mystic, even just for a minute, and how strange yet validating it is to allow someone else to articulate these feelings.

As a narrative tool, Hedva gave our resident astrologer, Jillann Morlan, a copy of their natal chart, in hopes that it would better explain aspects of themself and their work. Hedva explained their relationship to astrology and storytelling over email writing, “Astrology was a family practice for me; both my mother and aunt taught me as a child. i drifted away from it and rebelled in my early 20s, but found it again when i became sick and bed/house-bound during the first year of my saturn return. i started giving readings during this time, and now do it for a living. my relationship to it is always changing, but i can say that right now, i'm getting into the whole-sign house system (i was trained in placidus), and thinking a lot about fate and how the "malefics" work, or have been seen throughout history.”

Jillann explained further, noting that Astrology is not a question of fate, rather it is one of understanding. Stating, “No matter how difficult this astrology may be, it is not good or bad. Rather, these planets and aspects serve as a road map to Johanna’s personal mastery. This astrology tells a tale of deep and much needed healing across generations. People with such aspects may seem to have a somewhat fated astrology to work with, but they are also gifted with an incredible amount of resilience, passion, drive and intuition. In the midst of despair, this astrology can actually help attune a person to the gifts that reside within a catastrophe, health crisis or debilitating heartbreak or loss. Such pain and despair can often show us our truth, and this astrology will certainly lead one to truth, albeit through initiations by fire.”

Experiences of chronic pain or disability can be physically, or emotionally isolating. You start thinking about the strange and specific nature of pain itself. You try to translate it for well-meaning doctors or friends, and a look of confusion streaks across their face, and you are hit with a sense of profound loneliness, but also doubt. When pain is shared, reality is formed. When it’s just you and your pain, you start to wonder if it is real. Pieces like “Sick Woman Theory,” help cement your reality, but they also work as a source of resilience and strength.

Hedva posses a stelium in their twelfth house of Scorpio, Mars, Saturn, Pluto, all lie within the house creating three oppositional forces. As Jillann explained over email, “The 12th house signifies the subconscious, the hidden and the unseen.  It can relate to the past, suffering, spirituality, sexuality, the metaphysical and the occult, all of which play an integral role in Johanna's work.” Similarly, Hedva’s moon is in Cancer.

Said Jillann, “Cancer is the sign most known for its sensitivity, intuition, and complex emotional life, so the expression of feelings and emotions will be incredibly important to a person with this astrology.  We see the theme of transformation showing up again in the 8th House, which is the house of other people’s possessions, taboos, sex, death and rebirth.”

As a whole, Jillann relays that “The need to deconstruct, recreate, renew, and rebirth is all inherent in Johanna’s natal chart.  They appear to be a prime example of a person who knows how to work within and around the confines of pain and trauma. But, more importantly they are a beautiful example of a person who is committed to rising above. This fight isn’t about winning; it is about evolving.”

Ultimately, Hedva’s work is indicative of the non-linear path to healing. “Better” is not a concrete destination, rather it’s a shifting state, it weaves out of our lives like a mystic or a moon in Cancer. When one’s sense of wellness constantly shifts, from week to week, or even, day to day, seeing a similar narrative reflected in the media is a rarity. This is why “Sick Woman Theory” matters, it is both a manifesto and a mirror, a sweeping declaration that this pain is real, it is palpable, someone else can see.

See the entire spread in issue #19 here.