"Being a metaphysician, I know that everything happens for a reason," says Ruth Williams. "There are no accidents." Williams sits at a small table draped with a cloth decorated with bursting stars. In her cozy consultation room, situated in the New Age shop Pathways, Williams is casually dressed in a T-shirt with a pair of alien angels as its logo. But Williams has too much flair to ever be accused of dressing down. Her soft hands are accentuated with bright-orange fingernails, and she also wears an array of jewelry, but most notable is Williams' stunning blond hair, appealing enough that her hairdresser gets a credit on her weekly television program, Pathways Thru Astrology.
"If you're doing your best, I do believe the universe takes care of you," Williams declares. "I feel that whatever is coming is going to be better, in whatever way this happens to be for me."
Williams' faith in the positive forces of the universe has been put to the test recently. In March, her program was taken off a cable channel reserved for local schools after a school-board member and minister, Harold Brewster, charged that Williams and her guests were providing "satanic material." Then Williams learned that AT&T Cable Services would no longer be producing Pathways Thru Astrology, which has been on the air through various cable providers since 1986.
"He (Scott Rimell of AT&T) sent me a formal letter explaining that it had nothing to do with the original complaint, that it was just corporate policy. The letter was very kind," says Williams, who, being an astrologer, tends to take the long view of things. "They said they appreciated the connection with me and my associates. They had no complaints but said they were moving on to bigger and better things. I have not been in touch with them since then, simply because that's their choice. It's their money. They can spend it however they want to spend it."
Williams takes such change in stride, exhibiting a composed demeanor that comes out on the television screen as well. Her sense of calm authority may be the reason, at least in part, for her show's longevity. Pathways Thru Astrology functions as prime-time comfort food, a somewhat homely program that offers Williams and, usually, two other guests sitting around a table against a pastel backdrop. An astrological wheel shows what sign is in what house each week. On the table are psychic props -- a crystal ball, a glass pyramid, a deck of tarot cards. Williams and her guests sit and chat, sometimes as casually as folks getting together over coffee in the living room (which, essentially, they are), and take calls from viewers asking advice, mostly about business and romance. Her guests wield their psychic powers as Williams turns to a handy astrological guide (each caller gives his or her birthdate). Callers are told it's not a good time to start a business (lack of commitment) or to bring some romance back into a marriage (control the temper). Then Williams and a guest give the week's forecast. Sometimes Gene Jenkins turns tarot cards and makes predictions as Williams reads from a prepared astrological chart: Friday, consider words carefully; Saturday will be a trying day.
An hourlong program, Pathways Thru Astrology is like a weekly visit with the outlandish aunts and uncles you always wished you had (and maybe will get in the next life). It sure doesn't look satanic, but citizen Brewster has another view: "I don't know how much you know about the Bible, but any kind of fortune-telling is satanic. It's called wizardry and witchcraft, which is the same thing." Brewster speaks with a deep voice and a soft Southern drawl. "Anything that's not of faith is a sin. So if it's not of faith, it's a sin. I don't care how they want to describe it. Now, as a minister of the Gospel, I was terribly offended by having that stuff on our channel. Now, I understand that there are places for everything. The school channel is not a place for that. They have other channels. Newspapers even run horoscopes and things. That's their business."
However, there is a certain passage in the Old Testament (first chapter of Genesis, as a matter of fact) -- "Then God said, 'Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years'" -- that seems to imply, for astrology at least, some biblical credence.
"It still doesn't tell us that we're supposed to worship the queen of the sky," counters Brewster. "You can find an equally loquacious statement in the New Testament that tells you that we should not rely upon the elements. We should not rely upon falling back to the habits of the Gentiles, that we should not worship the stars, the moon, the sky, the days, the months. Every day is holy to God."
"He must be a fundamentalist minister," responds Williams, speaking in her own accent, which has a bit of South City in it ("harse" instead of "horse," for example). "I am sorry, but he is going to have to look somewhere else for Satan, because we don't carry him at all.
"If he had watched the show more than one time, he would have seen the variety of presentations that we made. If he had listened to the advice that was given to people -- I've always been very careful about who I had on the show and that their advice to people would have been positive but at the same time truthful and honest and helpful, hopefully. This is why the people at the station have let me have free rein, because they have known through the years that I don't do wacky things."
Williams mentions that she has many friends with religious backgrounds. Frequent guest Lorelei is Catholic, for example, and many churchgoers consult the stars as well. "They have no concerns whether astrology is satanic or not," Williams says. "Most of the people that I deal with believe that the universe was created by a supreme being and it's all part of the whole."
If Williams doesn't appear exceptionally distressed by the current tumult in her own personal universe, it was all in her chart, anyway. "I knew something was going to be changing in my job process that had to do with the public and with my career. I just didn't know what it was.
"This is a transition period. I know that it's a necessary issue for me to take it slow and easy -- to plan ahead because of the aspects that are occurring in the sky right now. Jupiter and Saturn are making their 20-year meeting, and that's a new phase, a new cycle. In my chart, that cycle is in what we call the 12th house. The 12th house is things of the past, the subconscious. It also can be a place where you have secret enemies, but it can also be a place where you're your own worst enemy. It has a lot of broad psychological stuff going on there, but it's making strong connection to Mercury. Mercury is communication. In my chart, Mercury is in the sixth house of work and service. Because of the astrological relationship, which is an opposition, it indicates a need for balance and a need for compromise. I know this is what I have to do right now. I have to balance and compromise the day-to-day stuff with the stuff that's back here in the background."
Rather than being undone by the loss of support from AT&T, Williams' faith in the stars has been reconfirmed. "When it happened, it was like, 'Wow! Astrology works!' Again, our lives change constantly, and astrology does not say exactly how it's going to change, but it does warn us ahead of time to be aware, to prepare, to not be devastated when change happens. That's the thing that I try to tell my clients all the time. I warn them ahead of time if I see something that I feel is really going to be traumatic. I say, 'This is a time you need to be watchful. You need to be aware.'"
Others in St. Louis' "metaphysical" community are not so sanguine. The May/June issue of Pathfinder, which describes itself as "the heartland's resource for conscious living," contains a petition on the inside cover page, addressed to Federal Communications Commission chairman William Kennard, to AT&T's origination manager Rimell and to Williams, calling "to remedy this infringement of our First Amendment rights."
"Pathways is a unique program that offers a potpourri of spiritual, philosophical, intuitive and healing practices to the public," the petition reads. "Removing this program constitutes an erosion of my freedoms of speech, thought and, in this 'Age of Information,' Media Democracy."
Rimell, contacted at AT&T's Olive Street offices and studio, argues that the satanic charge had nothing to do with Pathways' cancellation: "That I would call bad timing. That had absolutely nothing to do with it." The program was still showing up on the school channel, says Rimell, because "nobody bothered to turn it off."
The "bigger and better" program Rimell has in the works is "basically going to be all about pets, animal interests, that sort of thing. It'll be a live call-in show. It'll probably be on Thursdays, but it's not going to be the same time as Pathways is. It's going to be earlier in the evening."
According to Rimell, although Williams and company no longer have use of the AT&T studio to produce their program live on Thursday nights, "We'll continue to carry it. We're just not doing the technical work on it. We could carry it at the same time. It just depends on where they're doing it at. That's really the issue -- where they're going to do the technical portion of the show, basically, whose studio are they going to use. That's the only thing. We're not discontinuing the program; we're just not doing the technical work on it anymore."
Pathways, then, is in for, if not a cancellation, a long hiatus and substantive change. If the program is produced by Double Helix, with whom Williams has been in discussions, the show would be videotaped and the live call-in format would be lost. Pathways would become an interview show, which is all right with Williams, but that openness to chance, the on-the-air call to psychic and astrological wisdom, would be lost. Those folks looking for guidance from those figures on the small screen connected to the infinite powers will have to look elsewhere.
Meanwhile, Williams has planned her ultimate program on May 4. "My guest is going to be a friend from Illinois who used to be a Bible teacher before she became an astrologer. She's very knowledgeable, so she's going to be coming on the show to talk about the Bible and astrology. I thought that was a nice farewell."