The Lunar Nodes as a Life Guide
The lunar nodes aren’t planets. Even more, they aren’t any real physical bodies. And yet every astrological tradition paid them a substantial amount of attention. Traditional astrology doesn’t use new planets, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, as they were unknown in the centuries when its rules were established, but the lunar nodes were always an important element of every traditional astrological chart. Arabic and European astrologers called them the Dragon’s Head and the Dragon’s Tail, while in Vedic Astrology they are Rahu and Ketu, the shadow planets, and they are close in importance to the real planets. So why these imaginary points in the outer space were considered so important?
That’s because the lunar nodes are the points where the Moon’s path in the sky crosses the ecliptic, or the Sun’s path in the sky. They are indeed like nodes or knots binding together two main cosmic principles, the solar and the lunar. Thousands of years ago our ancestors noticed that eclipses of the Sun and the Moon happen not just anywhere in the sky but in particular spots, and those spots aren’t stationary, they keep drifting across the sky. The mythopoetic imagination of our ancestors pictured a celestial dragon that swallows the luminaries at the times of eclipses. Interestingly, in both European and Hindu traditions the nodes are associated with a dragon or a snake.
The node in which the Moon crosses the ecliptic heading towards the North pole of the Earth is called the North Node, or the Ascending Node. Traditionally, it is the Dragon’s Head, or Rahu. The other node, where the Moon crosses the ecliptic towards the South pole, is called the South, or Descending, Node. Traditionally, it is the Dragon’s Tail, or Ketu.
Now, let’s concentrate on the role of the lunar nodes in astrology. As it was mentioned, they join or bind together the principles of the Sun and the Moon. I believe that the Sun represents the Divine Sparkle, a spiritual center of the human entity which travels through numerous lives, incarnating again and again, accumulating in each life some experience. On the other hand, the Moon is associated with the material, mortal body, built from the materials of the Earth and serving as a temporary vehicle for the Sparkle of the Sun in one specific life. In this light, the lunar nodes represent a chain of incarnations, and it is quite natural then that in astrology they are considered as ‘karmic’ factors and are sometimes used for a judgement regarding a past or a future life. Also, some astrologers noticed that the lunar nodes frequently show themselves in near-death experiences, i.e. when a person comes close to the boundary of his or her current incarnation.
It is, however, more natural to be interested not in the past lives but in the current one (although the ‘karmic’ approach can be useful too). Within a single life, the Sun and the Moon are also very important astrological factors. A person might be born to find his or her unique creativity, to understand what is love and happiness, to find them, -- so we can say that the global aim of a human life is to find one’s personal Sun. Not necessarily this aim will be reached, but still the Sun illuminates life, gives it a sense and a purpose.
On the other hand, the Moon, within a single life, represents everything that was given to the human being, what he or she was provided with. The Moon is the physical body, the vessel for the soul; the Moon is the mother who gave birth to the child and nurtured it; the Moon is also the family that might serve as a protective shell between the person and the hostile outside world. In more general terms, the Moon symbolises the circumstances and the environment the human beings find themselves in in their current lives. My point here is that a person’s only way to achieve the aim of the Sun is by managing the circumstances of the Moon and by achieving mastery in this.
So what’s the role of the lunar nodes then in all this? How do they join together the principles of the Sun and the Moon within the current life? I would put it like this: the lunar nodes show a path. By following this path, we learn to master the circumstances of the Moon and come closer to the global aim of the Sun. The axis of the lunar nodes in an astrological chart can therefore be compared to the river of life, and each of us has his or her own personal river.
The river flow goes from the South (Descending) Node to the North (Ascending) Node, from Ketu to Rahu. In other words, the North Node is leading us in the direction of achieving the life purpose, although this is hardly a kind of purpose that can be fully achieved one day.
The longer we move towards the North Node, the higher are the chances that after the next turn of the river of life we shall see a new, even more exciting perspective. In contrast, the South Node is the path along the river of life that was already travelled. This path increases, grows as a result of our movement towards the North Node. The past path is something familiar -- not necessarily it was pleasant, but it was more or less assimilated. The past experience, associated with the South Node, makes the basis, the foundation for moving ahead, but it can also be a burden.
How can we practically interpret the position of the lunar nodes in a natal chart? My teacher Augustina Semenko valued highly the keywords given to the lunar nodes by the astrologer Frances Sakoian. I’ve just ordered a few of Sakoian’s books on Amazon to find out the precise wording of her keywords, but for this article I will try to translate them back from Russian. The keywords for the North Node are “including in a common stream”, and for the South Node -- “excluding from the common stream”.
This “common stream”, or “the river of life” in reality is represented by some direction created by the circumstances of life -- typically by a group of people, or a society, with which the person associates him or herself. One person might choose to follow the stream, in a calm and relaxed manner, while another person might be jumping from one stream to another, or attempting to go against the stream. All these peculiarities of human lives can be shown in natal charts by the lunar nodes.
North Node is a goal, and the goals of our lives usually have a collective nature. Imagine how many people in every country have a goal of buying a new car, or a house. Even if you count those who would like to become a President of a country, you will get many dozens. Hence the words “including in a common stream” for the North Node, the factor of integration.
On the contrary, the accumulated experience separates people because it is unique for everyone. It is hardly possible to find two people whose past experiences would be identical, or even very similar. We are all very different, and this is exactly what the South Node says, it is the factor of disintegration.
The isolating, segregating qualities of the South Node can usually be clearly seen in astrological practice. In fact, the South Node can be much easier seen than the North Node. This is not surprising because the South Node is the accumulated life experience, which separates us from the other people, and this experience usually contains not only valuable achievements but also problems, and the essence of those problems can often be expressed by the words “something is wrong”, “something is different from the norm”, “something is different from the other people”.
To understand what exactly can be wrong, we need to study the position of the lunar nodes in the houses of the natal chart. One day I worked with a client whose time of birth was known very approximately, so the natal chart was only a hypothesis, a result of a long and tedious process of rectification (astrological rectification is a process of finding out the exact time of birth with the help of special methods). In order to test how good is my hypothesis, I highlighted in the natal chart a few prominent features and met the client to discuss my findings, to find out whether my understanding of his chart does reflect the realities of his life.
One of the highlighted features was the exact conjunction of the South Node with the IC (the 4th house cusp). Of course, this also meant that the North Node was in precise conjunction with the MC, but it is usually the South Node which is acutely felt in life, and so I decided to ask a question about the South Node.
But what could I ask? The fourth house is the roots, the origin, the family, most obviously the parents’ family. Of the two parents, it is usually associated with the father. The cusp of the house is where its qualities of the house are expressed most strongly, so if the South Node in the client’s natal chart was indeed positioned precisely on the 4th house cusp, there had to be something special about the parents’ family of the client. So the question I asked was more or less like this: was there anything about your parents’ family that made them, as well as you, different from the common social environment, as if isolated them from the common way of things?
The answer was striking: my father was a prisoner and died in prison. Could there be a stronger expression for the isolating, separating South Node on the IC?
On another occasion, a woman had the South Node in the middle of her 4th house. It wasn’t on the cusp, so the situation wasn’t as striking, but still it was quite special. Her grandfather was an Indian (which was very unusual in Russia, especially in the years of the Soviet Union), while all the other ancestors were Russians, and she always lived in Russia. Again, we see “exclusion from the common stream”.
In the keywords for the lunar nodes suggested by Michael Munkasey there were many tonnels, tubes and similar objects. Indeed, the symbolism of the lunar nodes strongly resembles a tube, because a tube creates a stream (the North Node) by the way of separating it from the surrounding environment (the South Node). Or maybe it’s not a tube but rather a snake or a dragon? It is also interesting that many of those who had a near-death experience remember how they travelled through a dark tunnel. Couldn’t that be a direct perception of the principle of the lunar nodes?
The South Node is inseparable from the North Node, they complete each other. In a natal chart, they draw a vector, or an arrow, based on the South Node and pointing towards the North Node. This way they are creating the vector of the individual evolution of the native, showing which path he or she should choose in order to transform collective aims into individual experiences, in order by living in the current circumstances of life to gradually come closer to the purpose of his or her existence. But how do we understand what exactly this vector says?
Here is a key to an interpretation of the lunar nodes: go where the North Node is pointing, then the problems of the South Node will resolve by themselves.
If instead you’ll decide to concentrate on the problems of the South Node, you will only make them worse. Remember the image of the river of life. Instead of going with the stream towards the unknown goal that is always somewhere ahead, you can go back to the already familiar lands. You will feel immediately that you are doing something wrong as you will have to go against the river. As a result, you will not face the challenge of your North Node, as you will not move towards it, and at the same time the problems of the South Node will get stuck, as your evolutionary experience, the path you have travelled along the river, will stop increasing.
In the next article, I am going to offer a brief interpretation for each position of the lunar nodes in the houses, to get you started in your discovery and to assist you in your journey.