Lesson Five: The Nodes of the Moon
There is more to human life than our theories of it allow. Sooner or later something seems to call us onto a particular path.
Looking back over the course of one's own days and noticing how encounters and events that appeared at the time to be accidental became the crucial structuring features of an unintended life story through which the potentialities of one's character were fostered to fulfilment, one may find it difficult to resist the notion of the course of one's biography as comparable to that of a cleverly constructed novel, wondering who the author of the surprising plot can have been.
While we are on the whole subject of axes, I want to spend time
this week exploring the Moon's nodal axis, which is the third axis of particular
significance (in addition to the angles - the Ascendant/Descendant and MC/IC
axes) in our charts. We need to begin, as always, by understanding what the
Moon's Nodes actually are from an astronomical viewpoint, since this provides
the basis and foundation of our astrological understanding and interpretation.
Have a look at your birth charts, and you will no doubt see the north Node
But the symbol for the south Node is not always shown on horoscope print
outs, which explains why this important axis may not be immediately obvious.
As with all axes, the south Node is exactly 180° from, or opposite, the north
You can see from this diagram that the plane of the Moon's orbit is at an oblique angle of approximately 5° to the plane of the Sun's orbit (the ecliptic). The nodal points mark the position where these two planes cross, and every month the Moon crosses the ecliptic twice, once travelling north (at the north Node) and once travelling south (at the south Node).
The Nodal Axis
When the Moon crosses the ecliptic, then, from the point of view of the
earth, the Sun and Moon are in alignment. This means that, when a new or
full Moon coincides, or nearly coincides, with one of the Nodes, then there
will be an eclipse, and, of course, eclipses are powerful celestial events
which have always had immense significance throughout the history of astronomy
The Nodes have been known from ancient times as the head and tail of the celestial dragon - a monstrous creature that devours the Sun or the Moon at eclipses. The Nodes have played a particularly important role in Indian, Vedic astrology, where the north Node ('Rahu') is the dragon's head and the south Node ('Ketu') is the dragon's tail. I am sure you can understand why both Nodes were considered to be dangerous, or malefic. We will look at eclipses in much more detail next term, but perhaps the main point I want to make now is that, when they do occur, we look upwards, away from the earth and all our day-to-day concerns, and stand in awe as we watch these great events take place.
Audience: They sound like rather scarey points.
Clare: That's right, particularly since they have always been associated
with fate and with fated events, in both Vedic and Western astrology. Traditionally,
eclipses are associated with tragedies, catastrophes and deaths, particularly
the death of kings. As psychological astrologers, I think we still have to
find another way to understand them.
Now that we have identified where everyone's nodal axis actually is, the next question is how we interpret it - and this is actually rather more complicated to answer.
Audience: Do you interpret the Node like the Moon?
Clare: Well, the Nodes are in fact empty places in space, except during
eclipses, so we have to resist the temptation to interpret them as if they
were 'simply' planets. They seem to have a profoundly metaphysical meaning,
since it is on these points that the Sun, Moon and Earth are in alignment,
so they are the meeting place, symbolically, of spirit, soul and matter,
both collectively and individually. Another important point about the nodal
axis is that it is moving in the opposite direction to the Sun and all the
other planets. As the angles and all the planets move forward or anti-clockwise
around our charts, they describe how we engage with and relate to the world
around us. The Ascendant/Descendant axis and the MC/IC axis are doors into
the world, describing our struggle to extract ourselves from the parental
matrix, to put down our own roots and find our own place in the world, and
to define ourselves through partnerships. In contrast, the nodal axis moves
backward or clockwise around our charts. It is not so tied up with the dramas
of life. Rather, it seems to function as a doorway into other dimensions,
where we can sometimes glimpse or sense our soul's purpose and pattern, our
entelechy, the deeper purpose and function of our existence. And this can
be very different from the more conscious or worldly goals we set for ourselves.
There is no doubt that the nodal axis is of immense significance in our lives. It is an axis of tension and compulsion, around which ideas of 'fate' and 'destiny' always seem to hover. As Richard Idemon writes: 'It's as if life constantly returns you to this axis to work something out'. What do those of you who are already familiar with the Nodes think of when you see them in a birth chart?
Audience: Lessons to be learned.
Audience: Past and present. They are about time, with the south Node having to do with the past, and the north Node having to do with the future.
Audience: The north Node is what we are striving to become.
Audience: Is it something to do with reincarnation?
Audience: It's about special people coming into your life.
Clare: Just for a moment, take the nodal axis out of your chart. What does it feel like?
Audience: We lose our soul.
Clare: That's very interesting. So without the nodal axis, we lose our
direction and we lose our soul. Let's have a look at some of the other ideas
you have mentioned. Although both the Nodes were originally considered to
be malefic, at some point in the development of Western astrology their interpretation
began to polarise. In traditional horary astrology, for example, a planet
conjunct the north Node is said to be helped, strengthened or increased.
Conversely, a planet conjunct the south Node is said to be harmed, weakened
or decreased. In addition, the north Node began to be interpreted as the
'evolutionary path', the direction in which we are 'meant' to be going in
our lives, and the south Node started to be interpreted as the 'regressive
path', the direction from which we have come, or our past.
In Western astrology, it seems that Alan Leo is responsible for making the specific connection between the nodal axis and karma. The Theosophical movement, out of which astrology was reborn at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, was strongly influenced by Indian culture and religions. As an astrologer, Alan Leo did much to breathe new life into Western astrology, and as a Theosophist he was convinced that the natal chart could only be properly understood in the context of karma, past lives and reincarnation. It is important to recognise straightaway that the horoscope itself has nothing to say on this subject. A horoscope is just a horoscope. The meaning we impose on it depends upon our specific cultural and historical background, as well as upon the individual philosophies and world-views of astrologers themselves.
And so we have inherited an interesting conundrum, because Western astrology has developed enormously since Alan Leo's day, and we no longer see astrology in terms of cause and effect, so it seems that our interpretation of the Nodes has become rather stuck. For example, we don't tend to look at the whole chart in terms of karma, do we? We wouldn't look at someone's Saturn-Mars conjunction and start wondering if they might have been a murderer in their past lives - we simply don't work like that any more.
Audience: I hope not, because I have a Saturn-Mars conjunction in my own chart.
Clare: Let's go back and look at the diagram again. You can see that the north Node is the point where the Moon moves 'upward' into the northern hemisphere, and the south Node is the point where the Moon moves 'downward' into the southern hemisphere. Perhaps this explains why the north Node came to be associated with the spiritual path, because our astrological symbolism tells us that spirit is fundamentally solar - associated with height, light and transcendence. Spirit is abstract, linear and vertical, calling us upward, forward and outward.
As such, the north Node has become associated with our individual heroic
quest, requiring the development of our personal will, so that we may fulfil
our spiritual destiny. And because of this, there is often an assumption
that our south Node is regressive and tends to pull us backward and downward,
away from our spiritual path. And so a good/bad split and a future/past split
has crept into our interpretations, along with a kind of moral imperative.
For example, it is not uncommon for astrologers, who are otherwise working
very psychologically, to start using words like 'should' and 'ought' when
they are interpreting the nodal axis.
Going back to the actual astronomy of the Nodes, however, we can see that they are in fact the meeting point of the Sun, Moon and earth, and that they are therefore the symbolic meeting point of the spirit, soul and body - liminal places where opposites come together and merge. From an alchemical perspective, the Nodes represent the sacred marriage of the Sun and Moon, of the masculine and feminine principles, the mysterium coniunctionis which is the goal of the alchemical opus. Throughout our lives there is an equal emphasis on both Nodes - they are equally active, since eclipses, whether solar or lunar, occur on both Nodes. Perhaps the best way to demonstrate this is to show you an illustration of the DNA double helix represented in complete symmetry as a pair of serpents.
Naturally, because of the way our minds are wired, we are likely to find ourselves falling into our habitual either/or kind of thinking, but all the same, although we know that the Sun and Moon are opposites, it is important to try not to polarise, since we also know that opposites cause and depend upon and complete each other. Have a look at this table, which lists some of the words associated with the Sun and the Moon.
Let's consider the lunar side of this table. The Moon is symbolically associated with the soul, being diffuse, immanent and collective. It is circular, dark, and has to do with the body and with matter. It calls us downward into our birth charts, into nature and into our incarnation. Because the Nodes are the points where the Sun and Moon come together - places where the opposites merge - both sides of the table need to be taken into equal account in our interpretations.
Audience: Yes, I can see what you are saying now. We seem to be using mainly solar words or coming from a solar perspective when we look at the Nodes.