“In our unconscious are ideas that we often disavow, that we don't like about ourselves, that we are unaware of. “I don't like that. I’m not that. I don't want to see that,” most of us - including myself - push this information away. But there is beauty in the unconscious. The material that comes up from the unconscious is what we need to look at, because that is where the power is.”
Asher Hartman is a trans artist, playwright, and intuitive psychic based in Los Angeles. He has become a cult figure in the city, doing in-depth intuitive readings for professionals in the art and entertainment worlds. Hartman is also the director and founder of Gawdafful National Theater, a group of interdisciplinary artists and actors, who have performed at venues including LACMA, Hauser & Wirth, and the Berkeley Art Museum. His newest collection of plays, Mad Clot on a Holy Bone: Memories of a Psychic Theater, was recently published by Alexandra Grant and Keanu Reeves’ publishing house, X Artists’ Books.
In this interview, Asher Hartman shares what led him to intuitive work, why it is important to access your unconscious, and how he integrates his work as an intuitive with his work as an artist and playwright.
TGL: How was your childhood?
AH: I grew up in the early 1960s in San Francisco. That was a time of tremendous political upheaval, cataclysmic social change. My parents and I lived near San Francisco State University where there were a lot of riots. One of my earliest memories is when I was trying to put my chin on the window, I looked outside and there were 25 or more police motorcycles getting ready to stage a response to the uprisings nearby. That period of time absolutely influenced everything that I do today.
As a child, I also made nonsensical plays in public school. Every year, I would stage a play. I knew I wanted to be a director and a writer. My plays made no sense. They still don't always make sense to people. They’re flooded with ideas of the other world.
I can't imagine this was true, but I remember my first-grade class went to the planetarium to see a show about aliens mutilating cattle. It was the best show I'd ever seen. It made me want to be in theater, and it connected me to the supernatural. That's how I remember my childhood, full of violence, mystery, excitement, and incredible liberatory change.
TGL: You studied at CalArts. Why did you decide to go to CalArts?
AH: I really didn't know anything about the arts. I wanted to be an artist, but I didn't know about grad school or that you had to pay for it. I had previously written a book, which financially allowed me to do something I always wanted to do in my life. I chose CalArts - it’s a terrible thing to say - because it was near the 5, and I was afraid to drive on a freeway at the time. The 5 north was the easiest. When I got there, of course, it was an incredible experience.
TGL: Was theater your focus at that time?
AH: I had done theater in Los Angeles for a while and left it for performance. I was immersed in performance art at the time. My understanding of performance art was not in the visual arts context, it was in the theater context and in a world that was not directly connected to the art world. That's why I didn't quite get to performance there. At CalArts there are a lot of disciplines to study, I started to blend visual art, performance, theater, and film, and to make work that could be described as a hybrid.
TGL: What led you to psychic intuitive work?
AH: As a kid, I was very interested. I had a little troll doll, which I still have. I was fascinated with this doll. I would take the doll and do rituals with it. I would try to bring spirits alive through worms, leaves, pine cones, anything I found on the ground. Like many, I lost that sense of wonder. I started losing my sense of self as a student in college.
Much later, I went to a conference at the LAX Hilton. I was lying in bed listening to a radio station, KPFK, here in Los Angeles, and I heard an announcement for this psychic conference. I leapt up and thought, "I have to go to this." I went, and I met these beautiful people. We were supposed to talk to each other about what we see. As I started talking to people, all of this information started flooding my mind, visual images, senses, sounds, and people started lining up to be read, which I didn't know was called a reading at that time. I met a wonderful couple who wanted to be read a lot, and they happened to live close to me, so I read them a lot. I began to study thereafter. That was 20 years ago at this point.
I've always been interested in mediumship, shamanic practice, the afterlife, the mysteries of life, and spirits. It takes a lot of practice to hone, but we're all intuitive. We're all psychic. This is an aspect of self that we need to connect with again, because we all do it.
TGL: How did you study your intuitive practice?
AH: First, I went to the Spiritualist church, Los Angeles has two Spiritualist churches that are very different in nature. I met wonderful people there who taught me how to do this. Later on, I met a number of teachers. One of my absolute favorite teachers is an incredible medium named Hollister Rand. She is one of the most loving, integrity-filled, profoundly gifted mediums I’ve met. She helped me and many other people learn. She's a teaching medium. She also practices and writes. She opened my mind. So many people opened my mind.
TGL: What kind of people do you do readings for?
AH: I adore creative people. I've been lucky to meet creative people who are so much more advanced in their thinking and in their understanding of themselves than I am of myself. I learn a lot from creative people, because in general, creative people are willing to look at aspects of their beings that people who aren't comfortable with their creativity perhaps aren't accustomed to look at.
TGL: What is your process when you read someone?
AH: The process is a blend of things that sometimes even I don't understand. In general, I'm using all of my senses. Most of us have at least some physical senses. Some of us see physically, hear physically, smell, have awareness…Then, there are senses that we have on the inside. For example, seeing through your third eye, that is using your inner vision, is akin to dreaming.
If you can make a visual image in your mind of a pastrami sandwich, I think you are clairvoyant. If you can feel empathy - and usually we do it with the heart or the solar plexus - then you can feel into another person. All of us do this every day, whether we consider ourselves psychic or not. You have to get express permission from people and their guides to step into their energy. I would never read someone, for example, who is standing in line at the supermarket or pumping gas. When I read, I look at various aspects of the self, such as one’s relationship to their ancestry, their relationship to the divine, their inner vision, their sense of purpose and power, their sense of self-worth, the relationship to love, sexuality, and their creativity. All of these aspects of self can be sensed in the dome of the energy field of the person you read. The reading itself is a lengthy weaving of the relationship of all the various aspects of self and spirit.
TGL: How do you help people through your readings?
AH: My readings are meant to help people expand even more than they are already expanded. I help people look at places where they get in their way. We all get in our way every day. There's nothing wrong with that. Most of the time, we have a limited sense of self. The self can be constricted by the way many of us are brought up.
We tend to think of ourselves as: “I'm the daughter of this person, the son of that person. I got this parking ticket. I have this degree. I made this mistake. I got this like or this award.” We attenuate who we are. In fact, we are these multiple, powerful, magnificent beings. We are a complete cosmology of spirits that are incredibly forceful, ancestors from thousands of years ago who want to speak, and aspects of memories that we've forgotten from childhood. They are all traveling in our body-minds.
The person getting the reading is typically called the sitter. My job is to try to connect the sitter to these images, so they can understand who they actually are so they can enter their lives more fully.
TGL: How do people react to their readings?
AH: The reading works over time. You might understand it in the session or you may understand it later - two days later, or six months later. Its meaning tends to expand over time. You use it to come into your full power, which is a difficult word for a lot of us at the moment who don't like the idea of power. This is not necessarily a good thing, because the people who like to misuse power, they have no problem with the concept of power. We have to sit in this power, be in this power in order to be who we actually are. When we are open to ourselves, we are more open to our life’s work.
TGL: Power was the main theme of your recent installation Machine Project. Sometimes when we think about power, we think about political power and financial power, but we don't often think about the power of the self. Could you talk more about this idea?
AH: Some of us, not all of us, are educated to be humble, which is lovely, and to be small, which is sometimes a problem. We are not meant to be small in this life. It doesn't mean that we’re big, that we're peacocks or narcissistic or unrealistic. We incarnated to do certain things. We are given signs of these things all the time. Our unconscious mind, spirit, our connection to the divine show us. Those of us who love people, love animals, love the sentient and the non-sentient world, we need to use our power.
We need to use it with joy, excitement, elation, because that allows us to do the things that we need to do not only for ourselves but for other people and beings, beings of all types because we are all sentient, everything is sentient. If we are holding our power back, we are actually impeding ourselves in my opinion. We can do this, stay limited, until we die. I've seen it. I'm sure everybody has seen that; people who have limited their power - and by that I really mean their vitality - and then die. What's the point, really?
TGL: What is a difficult part about the process of reading someone?
AH: Language is the hard part, because we like to hear in a particular way. If you hear something, and you don't like the way it is said, you can easily reject it. We have to be mindful that language is a container for ideas far beyond the meaning or sound of the word, the cadence.
TGL: From a technical perspective, how do you read a person who is tense?
AH: There are times when people don't want to open up. There are a couple of reasons for this. One: people are anxious because they think they're going to find out they are terrible people. No, that's not the case. Nobody is a terrible person. I mean, you can think of examples of bad people, but that’s not how it feels inside the individual, and no one is all bad or all good. Two: people are skeptical, and skepticism is a great thing. People think, “What is this? Is it magic?” It isn't magic. I will talk to people about what the process is, how I use the process, how they can. There is a very small number of people who are so tense that it is hard to read them. Sometimes, I will see entities or angels or other beings communicate: “You don't want to hear this at this time.” But this is rare.
I shouldn't say this too casually, but if you don't resonate with my reading, I give you your money back. I tell people this immediately, if this isn't for you or this isn't the right time for you, you don't have to do this. The second thing we do is we breathe, and we ask, the sitter and I, how we want to know what we want to know. The prayer allows me to go into the person's energy. The sitter has complete agency. If they want to be there, they can be there. If they don't, they don't have to be. They may want to relax themselves enough to open up their consciousness. We ask the guides to come in. We ask the spirits to come in. We ask for full protection and grounding. We do grounding exercises. Then, we enter into the reading. In the first part of the reading, I look at the symbology in the sitter’s energy field. It usually happens fast. I know the spirit is running through me when it's really, really fast. People can record the reading or I can, and they can listen to it later. In the second part of the reading, we ask a lot of questions. The person coming for the reading can ask anything. They can ask anything from "Where is my pencil?” to “Why am I here?"
TGL: Are there any questions you do not answer?
AH: I'm not a medical medium. I don’t answer medical questions. I’m not a shaman. I'm not a medium who can talk to people who've crossed over, although I can step into the mediumistic energy upon occasion. I’m an intuitive, as we all are, so I’m feeling into energy, not predicting. This is a natural, ordinary process of feeling-seeing-sensing.
TGL: How do you recharge after reading a lot of people?
AH: The people I read give me a lot of energy. They are fascinating. People are really alive. When they are flowing, I’m flowing. I do have to eat a lot of protein, either a protein shake and peanut butter. I walk around the neighborhood and see the trees, I see all of the flowers, life. There are so many beautiful flowers right now. I rest, relax, and read.
It is harder for the sitter, because they are expending a lot of their unconscious energy. It is exhausting. People get very tired, just like you sometimes do when you have an energy treatment. It’s beautiful, but you are using a lot of energy, so you need to relax and rest and drink water.
TGL: Why is it important to access your unconscious?
AH: It's the most important thing. It's the gnarliest thing. It's really tough. The thing about the unconscious - not being a therapist or an analyst - is that we are not conscious of it. In our unconscious are ideas that we often disavow, that we don't like about ourselves, that we are unaware of. “I don't like that. I’m not that. I don't want to see that,” most of us - including myself - push this information away. But there is beauty in the unconscious. The material that comes up from the unconscious is what we need to look at, because that is where the power is.
For example, if we are doing an internal exercise and the image of the vampire comes up, it's not unusual to feel bad, to say, “The vampire! I’m a terrible person. I'm a psychic vampire, I'm one of these people that takes energy from people.” Maybe, but if you stay with it long enough, you will start to become aware of things that are actually beautiful and powerful and variegated in this image. The vampire may be mystical power, all-knowingness, a connection to the moon, a certain kind of lunacy or madness or virility that is profitable.
There is an incredible psychoanalyst, James Hillman, who said, "Get out of the way of the images." That is one of the most powerful statements for a creative person. The images are coming, don't analyze them. Make it clear to yourself what is going on and have enough bravery and courage to stay with the images, because that is where the real work is. At the moment, we are seeing the unconscious material arise in our nation. Maybe we didn't see it 2 years ago or 10 years ago, if we don't see it now, there is something wrong with us because it's quite florid. We need to see it.
TGL: What would be your advice for people who want to teach themselves to be intuitive?
AH: Number one: just realize that you are intuitive. Yet, there’s this issue of doubt that we all encounter. Most of us are trained to not listen to our intuition. For example, if we meet somebody we don't think we like, we might think, “I don't like that person. That person is dangerous.” Then, we ask, “How do I know that? There's no reason, I'm being so judgmental.” We override our first understanding. Be in your body, not in your mind. The body knows. There's an incredible book called, The Body Keeps the Score, about the effects trauma on the body. I think everybody should read that, because the mind is the body. Feel into the body. To enhance your awareness, you can do simple meditations, simple exercises. For example, you can do an audio meditation where you just listen. Breathe and listen to everything around you: the fabric of your clothing, the birds in the trees, the trucks driving by, the creaking of the house.
Number two: open your heart. This is hard for a lot of us, because we sometimes shield our heart out of necessity. If you practice opening your heart a tiny bit every day, feelings can be dramatic. We are so used to being shielded, it feels so uncomfortable, so vulnerable to open our hearts. Do it for two minutes, two minutes a day, practice opening your heart. Imagine that there is a door at your heart that opens back and front and opens it up around you, your body, expand it.
Know that your vulnerability is your gift. It's the most beautiful thing about you. Everything that you mess up, everything you say wrong. Everything you trip over makes us love you even more. You don't have to be hard to be loved. You don't have to be right to be loved. It's actually quite the reverse. Just be your vulnerable, needy, loving self.
TGL: You came out as transgender as an adult. What was your mindset when you made this decision?
AH: I never felt like a single person. I always felt multiple. We are all multiple, but we are trained to think of ourselves as individuals, a single personality, one destiny, linear, but that was never true for me. As a young person, I was into dressing in a very feminine way. I had the hair, nails, and heels, but I felt male. I became obsessed with FTMs, which is an acronym meaning female to male transsexuals. I was reading a book about FTMs, and you know in the movies when they have a little light on something - like a light on mayonnaise in the refrigerator or a light on the dog - and the viewer has a realization about the plot? In my mind, I saw a light on the acronym FTM. I had an epiphanic experience where I felt, “Ah, this is what is wrong with my life. I need to transition. This is me. This is why I am obsessed with the FTMs, I am trans.” I did transition, twelve years ago.
The concept of being transgender or transsexual was new to me. In my generation, it was not common. People experience gender in a complex way today, but back then the conversation about complexity was rare. Only a few artists I knew had transitioned. The decision was incredibly difficult, because I knew that on the one hand, I'd be extremely happy, but on the other hand, perhaps my family would be upset. We often constrict ourselves thinking our families will be upset. I knew that was going to happen that my family would be upset. It did to a degree, but I went through that process with my family. My life really transitioned personally after that. My depression lifted, lots of things happened to me that were positive in the transition.
TGL: How do you integrate your practice as an intuitive with your practice as an artist and playwright?
AH: Gawdafful National Theater, which is my art project and theater, consists of a lot of artists: visual artists, performers, writers, actors who are and/or people. They have diverse practices in the art world and in the theater world. They are brilliant people, more experienced in theater than I am, and they are all mediumistic. Whenever we are working, we are aware that we are going into our unconscious minds and spirit. That's what we do together. It's gnarly.
TGL: What is your playwriting process?
AH: A lot of times, I pick an actor, someone who I want to make a play for. I interview them at length, and they talk about various things that are interesting to them as artists and as people and what they want to work on specifically as artists. I begin to write, and images come to me, ideas come to me. Then, we get together and we do psychic work, theater games, things that force us into our unconscious minds. Then, I write again, and we start to read the play. They give me feedback, and then I write it again.
We go through this process over and over until we get a script. Once we get that script, we start rehearsing it as proper theater, but we’re always in the depths of the actor’s psyche. This is what's so hard. The actors have to regurgitate the stuff that they’re not used to feeling, or if they are, they have to go through it again. Some of the actors I work with are clear about who they are, they have such an appetite to get into the meat of their psyche. They're so good at it. All of them are so gifted. They take the language that I write, which is abstract, and they're able to step-by-step line-by-line make it literal and inhabit it. They're amazing. We spend a year at least on each piece.
TGL: What are you currently working on?
AH: Right before COVID-19 hit, we were working on a play called, The Dope Elf, which is essentially about white supremacy. It was a tough one, because people had to be in places they didn’t want to be, both as people who experienced oppression and people who have histories, particularly in their ancestry, of oppressing. That is not fun, but it is absolutely necessary culturally to investigate. I'm also writing a book that utilizes, sadly to say, my own childhood, which was filled with psychedelic and abstract thoughts about being a woman and being a subject in that way. The complications of that in relation to spirit and the unseen world.
TGL: How have you been affected by COVID-19?
AH: Many people have died, many people are still sick. Many people have nearly died. Many people are still in recovery, losing their businesses, losing their rent, their homes, their mortgages. It's complicated. It is a difficult time, but there is beautiful work to be done as well. Just before COVID-19 hit, I lost my dear friend and psychic collaborator, Haruko Tanaka. It was very tough. I'm one of these people that, unfortunately, buries grief. When COVID-19 hit, I, like many people, started getting somatic responses to grief. I felt sick and tired. I was nauseous for no reason. I was not and have not yet been sick with COVID-19, but I was emotionally sick. I had to deal with all this stuff that I tried to suppress, my feelings about my loss and losses that I've experienced in my life.
TGL: How do you think the pandemic will affect us in the long run?
AH: This is a critical time. One of our major cultural drugs is the “to-do” list. My fear for this time is that as soon as we are able, we will increase the to do list. We will rush out into the world, and my prediction is that about six weeks to six months later, we are going to get sick again. Not only physically sick with COVID-19, but sick with ourselves.
TGL: How can people contribute to healing the world?
AH: I think what we can do is think about what we personally, individually, are good at and love. Each of us have something that we love to do, and we do naturally. I can give inspiration and love to people. That's how I'm going to contribute. There are many things that we can do to change this world. Do what you do, do it well, and do it with ease, because if it doesn't come with ease, it may be the wrong thing. Do what makes you happy in connection with others.
TGL: Who would you like to have dinner with that you don’t already know?
AH: I have to do somebody who has passed, the psychic medium Kenny Kingston. Kenny Kingston was the psychic to the stars, to celebrities. I love Kenny Kingston, because he would always talk to the audience. He would always say, "Sweet spirits." He met all these celebrities from say 1949, to the aughts. He was a bit androgynous, a flashy dresser. He's kind of the man I aspire to be. Brash and bold about his interest in artists and celebrities. I think for me, that's my buried psyche. That's the part of me that I don't really like to admit, but I am fascinated with intellectuals and people who have made achievements.
TGL: What advice would you like to give to The Genius List’s readers?
AH: Be who you really are and know that who you really are, isn't always acceptable to other people. The thing you aspire to be isn’t always going to please someone else. Inside every person, there is a deep wild soul who is yearning, howling, desiring of expression. That is the entity or individual that you want to serve.