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The Nodes

by Dana Gerhardt

Cinderella Does the North Node or Why She Runs Away from the Ball

The Moon's Nodes aren't of course planets. But their influence is arguably as important, which is why I've included them in this series. The Moon's North and South Nodes are sensitive points, indicating where the Moon's path around Earth crosses the ecliptic (the belt through which the Sun and planets appear to travel from our perspective on Earth). Western astrology and Vedic astrology view these points differently. I present the Western view.

I like magic formulas. When I learned about the Moon's North Node, I thought I had found one. Here was my key to happiness, fulfillment, and success, where the chart mapped my personal Excalibur. The heavens would sing as I stepped up to claim it, pulling my destiny sword from its stone with miraculous ease. Or so I thought. Once I actually began "doing" my North Node, and as I worked with others attempting the same, I discovered King Arthur's story wasn't the most relevant model. That's when I took a second look at what really happened to Cinderella-in the un-Disneyfied version by the Brothers Grimm[1]. The closer we get to a fairy tale's source text, the stranger its plotline and symbols, making it more like real life, tangled and curious, with loose threads that beg to be pulled. Doing so may just unravel our own archetypal dilemmas.

Grimms' Cinderella (or "Ashputtle") actually goes to three Balls, in a weeklong celebration for the prince. Each night she dashes away, not because a clock strikes twelve or a fairy godmother tells her to; she just wants to go home. How curious. The girl who's always been left behind is escorted to three A-list parties, wearing three priceless designer gowns (gifts from the magic bird above her mother's grave). She dances all night with an adoring prince, who's also the handsomest, most eligible guy in the kingdom. She's the envy of every woman there-and she gets homesick? Keep in mind that "home" for Cinderella means a tattered dress, a mountain of chores, a bed in the kitchen ash pit, with a wicked stepmother and two spoiled stepsisters who berate her endlessly. Running home just doesn't make sense.

Nor does it make sense when a client of mine with a 1st house Scorpio North Node fails her Chiropractic Boards three times in a row. Scorpio is the sign of the healer and Angie is one of the most gifted healers I know. She did well in chiropractic school. Even without that training she could work miracles with her intuitive touch. Angie's Grandmother was a healer. The night before she died, Grandma drove to Angie's house, headed straight for Angie's crib and picked her up, announcing she was passing on the healing gift. But for ten years now, Angie has worked at a modest wage as the receptionist in a chiropractic clinic, answering phones and leading patients to doctors with much less talent than she has. "But I feel like a fraud when I'm healing," she tells me. Her student loans have gone into collection. "Maybe I should get a better paying job in computers," she wonders. This is a gifted healer who won't get her license! Like Cinderella running home to her ash pit, it just doesn't make sense.

Enter the South Node. Directly opposite the North, its house and sign represent the "home" that keeps pulling us back. It's a comfort zone, describing attitudes and talents which, for good or ill, are easy to believe and express. Astrologers often say that South Node energies were developed in a prior life. At the least, they're usually evident in childhood, their expression somehow supported by our early environment. When we're in the South Node, we know who we are. Its instinctive behaviors and beliefs are familiar and safe, though not always positive. The South Node's influence is like Cinderella's two mothers combined: the deceased one and the wicked one. From her birth mother Cinderella is blessed with natural beauty and a loving compliant nature. From her stepmother she gets a bag full of burdens and lousy beliefs about herself. Together they represent her seed capsule-the gifts and limitations Cinderella must break through on the way to reaching her full potential. If she stays in her South Node womb, this precious girl could be sweeping ashes for all eternity.

That's where the North Node comes in. It demands we evolve. Sometimes it whispers, sometime it shouts, but always it points us toward growth. Dutiful Cinderella braves ridicule by admitting she'd like to go to the ball. "You? Are you kidding? You've got nothing to wear and don't know how to dance. We'd be ashamed if you came." says her stepmother. The girl goes sobbing to her ash pit, but the next day asks again. "Please, can I go to the ball with my stepsisters?" The North Node fills us with a temporary audacity-daring us to stretch beyond our customary role. Here we listen to an authority that's higher than family or cultural conditioning, deeper even than personality; lacking a more precise term, I call it "soul." The Nodes are the trajectory of the soul's arrow. The South Node is the bow shooting us into this life; the North is the target our soul hopes we will reach. However difficult or unrealistic this target, we are assured that if we get there, we'll enjoy unprecedented success, more meaningful than any South Node accomplishment.

Let's say you were Shakespeare in a prior life. Maybe you astonish your parents with a precocious vocabulary or even write dozens of plays at five years old. You get plenty validation for your clever rhymes, but over the years an inner voice whispers, "Wouldn't you rather try that?" And "that" will be whatever it was Shakespeare neglected, what he didn't have the time or the courage to try. Between eighteen and nineteen, at your first Node Return, you may stand at a crossroads. You could keep doing what comes naturally or dare to walk that different path. The soul seeks wholeness. At the North Node you're meant to expand your range and achieve new understanding and competence. If you entered life as an adventurous narcissist, the greater adventure could be falling in love and starting a family. If you were a monk in a prior life, the noise of the marketplace and the thrill of competition might be calling you now.

At the North Node there's often a crazy dream that doesn't disappear. No matter how often it's buried, it rises again. Each time Angie gives up on becoming a chiropractor, a few months later she considers taking the Boards again. North Node aspirations aren't always at the top of our minds, but they keep recurring. Yesterday I asked my Scorpio Rising friend, Jack, what he'd like to become and he said "The CEO of a mighty 'green' corporation." But more consistently over the years, I've heard the yearnings of his 3rd house Aquarius North Node. He wants to make a difference, to somehow share his original genius with the world, maybe develop a new concept or scientific invention. That's progressive Aquarius talking. He also wants to write editorials that will change people's minds and save the planet. That's the communication orientation in his 3rd house. Most of all, he hopes to join with a forward-thinking community of likeminded others-a dream which satisfies both the 3rd house and Aquarius North Node energies. He's made efforts in these directions, but success hasn't come easily.

Given the depth of North Node yearnings. we might expect them to be more easily achieved. Yet how does it feel to do something entirely new-something with which you've got no experience and even less confidence? No matter how deep your desire, going in this direction will still feel uncomfortable. Like a cartoon character walking out a fourth story window and suddenly realizing he's walking on air, we often panic in our North Nodes, even when we're enjoying success. Like Cinderella, we're itching to get away from the ball.

Angie gives a free treatment to a doctor who tells her she's the best in the clinic, but two hours later she's convinced herself she couldn't make any money if she went into business with her talents. Her 7th house Taurus South Node tells her it's safer to work for someone else; even if the pay is modest, it's secure. Who knows what she'd have to give up if she had a busy practice anyway? Jack gets a sudden inspiration for a new editorial but declines to write it because, he tells himself, its genius probably won't be understood. His 9th house Leo South Node makes it easier to sketch his far-reaching commentaries in his head than to commit himself to the work of gathering information to support his ideas. Why should he risk rejection by making his ideas concrete?

I like the way astrologer Laurence Hillman describes this pattern.[2] Imagine that life is a college and when you registered, you decided to get a PhD in math. That's the North Node. But you don't enroll in any math classes. Instead you keep taking classes in dance, poetry, music and art. That's the South Node. It's the astrologer's job to remind you where the math class is. This is especially true whenever life loses its luster and begins to feel pointless. Moving in the direction of the North Node can get you back on track. Nothing restores purpose and enthusiasm quite as magically as the North Node.

If the glass slipper fits, wear it!

Three times Cinderella leaves her South Node home for her North Node dance and then goes home again. "Three" is a magic number which, loosely translated into psychological terms, means "doing something long enough to finally get it." But it isn't Cinderella who "gets it." It's the prince. If the prince hadn't gone looking for Cinderella, she might still be cooking, washing dishes, and sleeping in the ashes. But by the third dance, the prince has wised up. Figuring that Cinderella will again run away, he lines the staircase with a sticky substance. That night she flees, but her glass slipper sticks to the staircase. Now all the prince needs to do is find the foot that fits it.

When you're having trouble achieving your North Node, you need to rouse your inner Prince, and you need to leave behind a shoe. The prince is the son of wealthy king and he's certain that Cinderella is the one he wants to marry. He's the part of us that's focused, determined, has powerful resources, and believes in our creative gifts. His desire to marry is a desire to become whole, in a sacred marriage of active and receptive qualities. He sees us, not through the eyes of our limitations, but the way our fairy godmother would have us look, as the radiant vision of potential fulfilled. But he needs a shoe.

The glass slipper is evidence that we really are the beautiful person we mostly hope to become. It is how we convince ourselves that the North Node dream is a risk worth taking. Before we can slip our foot into the shoe, however, we must first enter our South Node hiding place and identify its dysfunctional dynamics. In many versions of the tale, the prince sends his servants to scour the land. In the Grimms' tale, the prince hands the shoe directly to Cinderella's father, who takes it straight to his overjoyed stepdaughters. The first sister cuts off a toe to fit into the shoe; the second cuts off a heel. The prince rides off with each, until the blood and a pair of singing turtledoves reveal them for the frauds they are.

Why does Cinderella's father betray his daughter, giving the shoe to his stepdaughters first? A good way to understand fairy tale symbolism is to read all characters as reflections of a single psyche. The father represents the subconscious authority of past life and family conditioning. He's the dominant and largely unquestioned mindset that routinely sabotages us before the sacred marriage makes us whole. A student once asked the Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche what is it that's reborn when we reincarnate from one life to another. "Well I hate to tell you this," he replied, "but it's mostly your bad habits." The bad habits in our South Node, like the stepsisters, must be "outted," before we can claim our true happiness.

Astrology can help us identify possible self-limiting beliefs in any South Node placement, but nothing nails them better than an individual's history. Remember Angie with the 7th house Taurus South Node? Taurus South Nodes are usually resilient and stubborn. A typical belief is that they have to do everything themselves, using their own resources, since they can't rely on others for help. The 7th house Node is often needy and dependent, and tends to compromise itself via a belief that others are more capable or important. It's challenging to layer self-reliance on top of neediness in a single placement, but Angie's history does it neatly.

Angie was the fourth child and only daughter in a family with three sons. Her mother was exhausted by the time Angie was born, so Angie was enlisted from an early age to help take care of her brothers, since she was the girl. Angie's inner child is still hungry for the nurturing she didn't get. But one of her biggest resentments is that her father put her brothers through college, yet when it came Angie's turn, her father had remarried and was unwilling to help her out. Unlike her brothers, Angie had to take out a loan, which she's never had the resources to repay. As an adult she's still tangled in the net of her South Node beliefs: wanting support but not believing she'll get it, relying on herself but feeling too unimportant to count for anything.

Before a session, I usually ask my clients several diagnostic questions, including one in which I ask them to imagine who they were in the life just prior to this one. I tell them not to think too hard about it, just get in a light, whimsical frame of mind and notice the first picture that comes up. Nine times out of ten this answer is a useful portrait of the trapped beliefs in their South Node. Angie's past life picture was of an orphan sweeping the streets in Paris, a girl who probably died before reaching adulthood. Using this image, we were able to succinctly capture her limiting self-beliefs. With that touchstone, we could start the work on getting past them.

Angie was stuck in certain Taurus messages, but "debt," "resentments," and "powerlessness" are negative Scorpio words (the sign of her North Node). This happens a lot. The keywords from both signs often come up in our nodal dilemmas. Rarely do we make a clean shift from negative expressions of our South Node sign into positive expressions of our North. The energies of both sides of the polarity often need to be rebalanced in some way. Money and support will likely be issues for those with the South Node in either Taurus or Scorpio. Those with the Nodes in Capricorn and Cancer will likely struggle with issues of nurture, authority, and parenting, no matter which is their South Node sign. Those with a South Node in Aries or Libra will likely have significant life issues around relationship.

The need to balance the nodal polarity is of course most pronounced for those with contrasting sign and house placements, like my friend Lisa. Her South Node is in independent Aries in the partnership-oriented 7th house. She alternately longs to live alone and to be with a partner. Her childhood history includes both abuse and support. When friends visit, Lisa greets them as honored guests, making them feel quite special and important. But once the discussion begins, the conversation is all about her. After a few hours, most guests feel absolutely drained. People keep dropping out of her life and she never knows why. Learning how to balance self and other is her biggest life challenge.

Fairy tales can come true

After the stepdaughters are unmasked, the prince asks the father if he has another daughter. "Only a puny kitchen drudge that my dead wife left me. She couldn't possibly be the bride," he replies. Even with awareness, we may be reluctant to let go of our false expectations. How could we be someone important? But there, in front of an audience, we slip our same old ash-covered foot into this fabulous slipper-which means that who we are has been enough all along. We bring our South Node talents to a new venue, where they can shine with new creativity.

Recognizing Cinderella as his beautiful dance partner, the prince cries, "This is my true bride!" We need our moment of recognition. Sometimes this moment is indeed our North Node dream coming true. But just as often, that dream has been a motivator, the carrot on the stick to draw us forward, while the real achievement is something we'd taken for granted or never consciously sought. Our North Node recognition can be the discovery that we've done well in something we never expected.

I had this experience with my business-oriented Capricorn North Node. I was successful in school, always in leadership positions. I graduated from college phi beta kappa, magna cum laude. But after college, I was suddenly intimidated about joining the "real world." One of my astrologer friends calls the domestic, nurture-oriented Cancer South Node the "baby" node, because these people don't like to leave home. I certainly didn't want to stay in my family home, but after leaving the womb of grad school, I went directly into a marriage where I became a housewife-albeit an odd one, since I didn't have kids, didn't cook or clean too well. I stayed at home throughout my twenties, until my marriage broke up.

I got my first real job at 32, in business, starting as an entry level proofreader. I was promoted every couple of years, until I eventually became the vice-president of Operations. I was the top manager (Capricorn) in charge of all the support departments (Cancer) of a multi-million dollar company. I never took a single class in business or management. I would laugh to hear myself talk about contracts, scheduling, and resolving management issues-when I had no idea how I knew these things. It wasn't a past life intuition. I never played "businessman" in grammar school. Rather it was more like everything I'd done, everything I'd been interested in learning, went into my success at this job. But I wouldn't have planned it in a million years.

Happily, we never stop growing. This means we'll get many North Node recognitions in a lifetime. There's never just one. A month before Jack's second node return (this occurs around 37 years old), he received the final rejection letter from the U.S. Patent Office on a new concept he had devised for storing data-one of his 3rd house Aquarius North Node dreams. This appeared like the dismal end of a two-year struggle during which Jack many times bemoaned the lack of support and understanding from family and friends. But at the eleventh hour, a fairy godmother appeared in the guise of a patent attorney who believed in his idea. They appealed. A year later, Jack held his patent certificate in his hands. I've never seen him so happy. He felt like he'd reached a major life milestone. He had. I wish him the same success on his next round of North Node dreams!

1. Grimms'Tales for Young and Old: The Complete Stories, trans Ralph Mannheim, (Doubleday, 1977), pp. 83-89.

2. Laurence Hillman (with Donna Spencer) has written a fine book on the Nodes called Alignments, How to Live in Harmony with the Universe (Lantern Books, 2002)


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