Moon Watching series (5) by Dana Gerhardt

The Gibbous Moon

horseheadThe Moon had just entered its Gibbous phase. I started my drive home and tuned in the all news station on the radio. The breaking story was of two horses stranded in the local foothills. A slow news day perhaps, but it was tense all the same. Walking the horses down the ridge was judged too risky, so plans for a helicopter rescue had been put into motion. As I reached my turnoff, the helicopter arrived. Minutes later there was another report. The horses were too skittish. Before the helicopter could pluck them up, it could send rescuers and horses plunging down steep canyon walls.

It was an impossible situation - which is typically Gibbous. This is one of just two Moon phases lacking a nice Sun/Moon aspect, like a sextile or trine.[1] Gibbous takes us from the tension of the Sun/Moon's waxing sesqui-square (135 degrees) to the discord of their quincunx (150 degrees). Not surprisingly, we often find ourselves pitched between a rock and a hard place in Gibbous. It's tough to go forward and hard to go back.

Likewise, those born on a Gibbous Moon may have an intimate knowledge of difficulty. They may remember childhood as a particularly troubled time. The tendency towards a tense Sun/Moon aspect in their charts may say something about a discordant parental relationship, or less tangibly, about their own difficulty in marshaling emotion and will together. Understandably, some Gibbous Moon individuals become worriers, glass-half-empty people, always waiting for the other shoe to drop.


"'Gibbous' is an astronomical term describing a planetary body that's almost fully lit up. And indeed on Gibbous nights, glancing at the Moon, you'll find a Moon that's almost full. 'Almost' suggests a transitional time: we're close but not quite there."


Yet the Gibbous phase does have its victories. The stranded horses, for example, did make it down the mountain. Their rescue team, going inch by slippery inch in a gathering darkness, eventually led them to safety. This hints at why many of those born at the Gibbous Moon develop into gifted problem-solvers, with a gritty tenacity to see things through. A terrain of difficulty, however it arrives in literal experience, has a tendency to slow things down and focus one's awareness. In tight spots one learns to see the less obvious solutions. The mind analytically sharpens. Confidence and optimism can build.

"Gibbous" is an astronomical term describing a planetary body that's almost fully lit up. And indeed on Gibbous nights, glancing at the Moon, you'll find a Moon that's almost full. "Almost" suggests a transitional time: we're close but not quite there. The next phase is the Full Moon, bringing culmination, the revelation of what we've been building in the waxing cycle. But passing through 3 or 4 days of Gibbous first can test our patience. And it can test the soundness of our creative work. It may ask us to refine, revise, solve last-minute or impossible problems. It might even seem to block our efforts, so that nothing positive happens until the Full Moon's moment of unveiling arrives.

The Moon looks lopsided in Gibbous. With a shred of darkness at its uppermost edge, it's what we can't see now that generally gives us most of our trouble. That's the challenge of the 135 degree sesqui-square launching this phase. This aspect measures our awareness. And it's sneaky. It likes to take small, seemingly gibbousinsignificant things to big effect. Whatever mess we find ourselves can seem like an ambush.

This is true whether the aspect falls between Sun and Moon, between planets in the birth chart, or arrives by transit or progression. We are caught unawares. It's like the Cat in the Hat showing up on our doorstep while mom is away for the day. He looks benign and a little bit fun, says he's got some good games, some new tricks to show too, and he claims "Your mother won't mind at all if I do." Who could resist? How much trouble could one cat be?

Likely it was one or two such miscalculations that landed those horses onto their slippery ridge. Gibbous Moon and sesqui-square problems usually result from missteps made earlier in the creative process, from actions taken, decisions made, while innocent of the inevitable consequences. They come to light just so we can fix them. But tough as sesqui-square situations can feel, we are also free to ignore them. Life usually does go on. This might be why astrologers tend to think of the sesqui-square as a "minor" aspect.

Sesqui-squares also work to turn our notions of "major" and "minor" inside-out. It's all in how we react to their friction. The strategies we choose, like those of the three characters in Dr. Seuss' Cat in the Hat [2], will determine whether the aspect works for us in a big or little way. We can be like the mischievous Cat who creates his calamities but then makes new games of them. Then there's the overwhelmed boy, helpless against the momentum of a crazy cat in his house. And finally there's the mother, who's gone into town for the day. How does each handle the story's central tight spot?


"Gibbous Moon and sesqui-square problems usually result from missteps made earlier in the creative process, from actions taken, decisions made, while innocent of the inevitable consequences. They come to light just so we can fix them."


Mom is completely unaware of the problem. The boy is alternately alarmed and intrigued, but ultimately powerless as his house is trashed by the striped-hat-wearing Cat. The Cat is nonplussed, yet accepts his culpability. He meets the situation he's wrought with the most creativity. After Thing One and Thing Two run amok through the halls, tossing cakes, rakes, books and ships, fish and strings, he produces a special vacuum contraption that can pick up all these things. He's inventive. Ingenuity is a significant result that can emerge from this so-called minor aspect.

But if we're unaware of the sesqui-square, we may not recognize the creative opportunities it brings. For an astrologer, this minor aspect is certainly harder to see than the so-called majors-conjunctions, squares, oppositions, sextiles and trines. To a moderately experienced astrologer these fairly jump out on the wheel. But the sesqui-square is more elusive, like a wobble in experience we might want to ignore or pin on something else.

Whether the sesqui-square flares at the Gibbous Moon phase, or flares as a natal aspect or transit in our chart, if we are like mom arriving home and seeing the fish bowl isn't where it used to be, but we just shake our heads and move on, then it remains a minor event. If we are like the child, observing the chaos swirling around us, we'll in some way register the energetic potential of the time, though its intensity and our feelings of helplessness might be paralyzing at first. I'll never forget what my astrology teacher used to say of the sesqui-square, in her impassioned tone of voice: "135 degrees-that's a semi-square on top of a square! Do you think that feels minor?!"[3]

How does it feel? At the risk of seeming to trivialize this aspect even further, I'll share how 135 degrees feels to me: I stop at the grocery store after work. It's busy. I size up the registers and make my move. I dart through the crowd, like a thread, easing through the eye of a needle in the hands of an experienced seamstress. I make it to the shortest line. The customer whose groceries have already been bagged slowly takes out her checkbook. Her pen runs out of ink. The next customer disputes the price on a package of microwave popcorn and the box boy runs all the way back to the popcorn aisle to check. Then the manager arrives. He instructs the cashier to temporarily close her register in order to count her twenties. "It'll take just a minute," they smile.

The other check-out lines are now filled with new shoppers. The ones I'd expected to beat, who'd picked the slow lines, are already home, happily enjoying their dinners. Agitated beyond belief, I ask the gods: "Why is it that whatever line I choose, it's always, I mean always, the longest one!" I consider taking the gun I don't own and shooting out every light in the store. Crazy? Well... yes!!


"I'll never forget what my astrology teacher used to say of the sesqui-square, in her impassioned tone of voice: '135 degrees-that's a semi-square on top of a square! Do you think that feels minor?!'"


With sesqui-squares, writes Bil Tierney, "we are apt to react to minor conflicts in an overly forceful manner, which tends to throw situations off-balance or blow them out of proportion. Here we are easily ruffled, emotionally in flux, and often at odds with an unprecedented turn-about of events out of our control. ... Situations under this aspect tend to break down or fall apart at the last minute, which leaves us feeling momentarily scattered and disorganized."[4]

This throws new light on our sesqui-square difficulties: perhaps the tough situations it brings feel more calamitous than they really are. We experience a negative event (recalling the square inside this aspect); it seems unexpected, beyond our control. But it might also be of our own making somehow, seeded by some oversight, wrong view, or prior miscalculation. This may be harder to recognize, as a big dust cloud of emotion (the semi-square on top of the square) can rise up and obscure the true cause and real size of our problem. Instead we shake a big frustrated fist at the world.

leoTierney correlates the sesqui-square with the fire sign Leo. Its association with fire is unmistakable: we can feel it in our anger! Also Leo-like, our emotional display is often childish, egotistical. We act from the center of our own little world, refusing to cooperate with things as they are. We're obnoxious and bratty. Forget an astrologer: maybe we just need a nap!

It's tempting to look the other way when childishness pokes through our adult veneer. Especially when the trigger seems so trivial. We'll let our anger blaze until it burns itself out. Especially if it's a natal aspect, we'll likely do this again and again, until we finally recognize what is happening. When irritations come during the monthly Gibbous Moon, or during the three to four years of our progressed Gibbous phase, or when a transiting planet is in a sesqui-square aspect to our chart, we should take special note and pinch ourselves awake. At these times, whenever a problem pops out of the closet, we have a fresh opportunity to fix something deep.

Like that little edge of Gibbous Moon you just can't see, hiding beneath my checkout-line irritation was a deeper problem with time. This was the darkness that stood between me and my fullness. An innocent trip to the store could draw out my demons: my impatience, my need to win, to always be on time and ahead of time, even when I had no particular place to go. How could I learn to go with the flow? I needed some new tricks, new games, some more creativity. I had to shop in a sillier mood. The day I finally got comfy with being in the slow line was a great one. As the Cat in the Hat might have winked, "Now you will see something new!"

Whatever seems to thwart us with the sesqui-square reveals a major secret we've been keeping from ourselves: a blindspot of confusion and helplessness, lying just underneath our surface awareness. We get to see how we're yet unschooled, unable to accept life on life's terms. We can use its energy to burn through our immaturity. We can be more like the Cat in the Hat: wildly creative (Leo). We can laugh at how seriously we've taken ourselves. We can transform our minor event into a major self-development (also Leo). Big irritations shrink to minor status again.

Perhaps it's not surprising that the bookshelves of people born at the Gibbous Moon are often crammed with self-help and self-development books. The second Sun/Moon aspect of this phase, the quincunx, also points us toward self-development. Though its energetic style is different from the sesqui-square, it works by way of tension too. It's frustrating. No matter what we try, desired outcomes seem just out of our reach - until we learn that we ourselves have been sending them away.


"When irritations come during the monthly Gibbous Moon, or during the three to four years of our progressed Gibbous phase, or when a transiting planet is in a sesqui-square aspect to our chart, we should take special note and pinch ourselves awake. At these times, whenever a problem pops out of the closet, we have a fresh opportunity to fix something deep."


In the chart of a Gibbous client, the Sun (representing father) and Moon (representing mother) were in a quincunx aspect. She told me that her father used to beat her mother, which made her hate him. Yet when she and her mother finally ran away, changing their identities so he couldn't track them down, my client re-invented her father and began to idolize him. Now her mother was to blame. Either way she was miserable. What she wanted, of course, was a safe and happy home, but getting there took many adjustments and a lot of inner work.

An aspect of 150 degrees, the quincunx brings into relationship planetary energies of incompatible elements and modes. A fire sign is paired with a water sign; earth is paired with air. A fixed planet must relate to a cardinal one; a mutable planet has to work with a fixed one. The quincunx shows where energies aren't easily coordinated. There's effort, but it doesn't seem to get us anywhere. We act from one end of the aspect and it creates a wobble at the other end. Situations keep feeling out of balance. It's like we're being asked to reconcile the irreconcilable. We feel hopeless and drained.

A quincunx generally won't force the crisis a square does, nor bring the confrontation of an opposition. It's more like a hair-pulling puzzle. In a natal chart the quincunx often points to a nagging problem that runs throughout our life, the one we're never quite able to solve. When a quincunx arrives by transit or progression, it can start as a small annoyance, then it builds; or everything seems to go wrong at once. It's as though the time had a negative momentum all its own and chasing the solution only increases our frustrations.

catinthehatIt's like the Cat in the Hat sequel, The Cat in the Hat Comes Back. The cat takes a bath in the little boy's house and it leaves a pink ring round the bathtub. Oh no! The cat wipes the ring with mother's white dress and now the stain has jumped to the dress. Oh no! The cat flicks the stain on the wall. That won't do! Then he wipes the wall clean with dad's new $10 shoes. On it goes, until the pink stain jumps from the rug, to the bed, to the television, until outside the window, the snowy landscape is covered with pink spots.

But the cat is a keen problem-solver. He takes off his hat and, one-by-one, reveals a team of allies, 26 progressively smaller cats-in-hats, each named for a letter of the alphabet. Together they clean up the mess. It's a good description of how we can also respond to our quincunx situations: with the intelligence beneath our own hats. We must parse our instincts into finer and finer points. We must discriminate among them, becoming more selective in which to use when. Through analysis we reassemble our discordant energies into a brilliantly coordinated, more productive response.


"With its sesqui-square and quincunx, the Gibbous phase asks a lot from us. But it also promises a lot. If we wonder 'what's going to happen' at this Moon phase, we may need to brace ourselves for irritations and difficulties. Yet if we approach it as an opportune time for creative action, if we ask 'what can I do,' we'll likely accomplish great things."


The last and brightest of the Cat's little cats is Cat Z. So small, yet so powerful, he's impossible to see. That may be a good description for the quincunx solution. It's the intricate answer we never could have reached without all our preceding hard work. Cat Z has something called VOOM-"Voom is so hard to get, you never saw anything like it, I bet."[5] Voom is ingenuity, what the quincunx wants us to achieve. It's the magic potion mixed by struggling with what doesn't work until we reach the fine mystical blend that does.

With its sesqui-square and quincunx, the Gibbous phase asks a lot from us. But it also promises a lot. If we wonder "what's going to happen" at this Moon phase, we may need to brace ourselves for irritations and difficulties. Yet if we approach it as an opportune time for creative action, if we ask "what can I do," we'll likely accomplish great things. The Gibbous phase presents an exquisite transitional window for strengthening our rickety foundations and smoothing our rough edges.

This is the view in Tibetan astrology. The Tibetans cut the lunation cycle differently, with thirty Moon days of 12 degrees each, instead of our eight phases. The two Moon days that carry the sesqui-square and the quincunx are both auspicious. On the day of the sesqui-square, writes Philippe Cornu, "This is a day for wisdom." On the day of the quincunx, "This is a day of speed, clarity, skill and intelligence. Skillful actions are successful."[6]

astronautsI remember a Gibbous Moon a few years ago, when three astronauts from the space shuttle Endeavor executed a bold and untried last-minute plan to rescue a satellite with their gloved hands. It was invention on the fly; in NASA's 31-year history, never had three astronauts been outside a spaceship at one time. Though the operation required extraordinary delicacy, as the slightest motion might send the fuel in the satellite rocking, they did it admirably. The crew portrayed Gibbous tenacity and ingenuity at its best.

The best advice with Gibbous is to be ready for the unexpected. And this includes shifting our ideas about what's astrologically major and minor. The truth is that major transits can bring minor events and vice-versa. When Neptune squared my Mars (a so-called major aspect), the most notable event was that one of my shoe-straps mysteriously lost its ability to hold its snap. For days I shuffled with halting steps in a broken sandal (Neptune ruling and "dissolving" my shoes, squaring my Mars' forward motion).

Yet when Saturn transited in a Gibbous relationship to the Sun of one of my clients, moving from the (so-called minor) waxing sesqui-square to the quincunx, she entered a major period of difficulty. Unhappy where she was working, she had been looking, unsuccessfully, for a new position for months. Then she was laid off. Interviewing doggedly, and working hard to maintain a positive attitude, she had several promising leads, but still received no offers. She reviewed her resume, she polished her look, she practiced interviewing techniques. Still nothing. When she came to see me, she was desperate to know what she was doing wrong.


"Gibbous teaches not to push, but to persevere."


It's hard not to personalize such moments. Saturn transits always promote realism. Yet especially in its Gibbous aspects, it can ask that we get realistic about the rhythms of time. It's not always our moment. I don't think my client was doing anything wrong. It just wasn't time yet. The great flow of unfolding has its temporal traffic lights. Red lights hold some of us up, while the greens get to go. When things aren't happening for us, maybe it's time for somebody else to have their moment in the Sun. Or perhaps we need to wait while the rest of the world catches up to us. Or maybe there's no reason at all.

Gibbous teaches not to push, but to persevere. As Saturn pulled away from the quincunx, my client was indeed offered a job-at a higher salary, and with a better title than she'd originally dreamed of. What's more, during her Gibbous waiting window, she matured. Her capacity for dealing with life on life's terms got eminently stronger. May it be the same for you!


  1. The other is the Balsamic phase which contains the semi-square and semi-sextile.
  2. From Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat, (New York: Random House, 1957).
  3. The square is 90 degrees and the semi-square is 45 degrees. Add them together and you get the 135 degrees of the sesqui-square.
  4. Bil Tierney, Dynamics of Aspect Analysis, (Rene: CRCS, 1983), p. 32.
  5. Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, (New York: Random House, 1958), p. 57.
  6. Philippe Cornu, Tibetan Astrology, trans. Hamish Gregor, Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, 1997, p. 181.

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