The Lunar Nodes and Notions of Time and Destiny

This week’s blog was sparked by the sun’s conjunction with my south node which reminded me that Jupiter is on his way here too. The transiting north node is coming as well. And they’ll meet in a dance lasting the next several months whilst both squaring my natal nodal axis on and off. Obviously I am bound as an astrologer to wonder about this. The modern idea when interpreting the nodes is that they sign the individual’s path to fulfilled life-purpose which means they are something to do with timing and destiny. But what have they to do with timing and destiny?

I guess the first job is to think about what the lunar nodes actually are, so I’ll start with a little astronomy. Within the ecliptic coordinate system, the positions of solar system objects are defined according to their relationship with the ecliptic. This is the path that the sun appears to trace onto the celestial sphere as we orbit him through the course of the year. A solar system object’s orbital relationship with the ecliptic can be a few things. For instance, it can seem to run parallel to it, or it can seem to intersect it. The moon seems to cross the ecliptic because, at its most extreme, her orbit is inclined away from it by just over 5 degrees. So, during the course of her orbit, she must cross the ecliptic twice and the lunar nodes are the points of intersection.

With the lunar and solar planes tipped away from each other from our earthly perspective, the two nodes have opposing directional and spatial qualities: one ascends as the moon crosses from south of the ecliptic to north of the ecliptic; the other descends as it crosses from north of the ecliptic to south of the ecliptic. The ascending node is our north node – Rahu in Vedic astrology or the ‘dragon’s head’ (Caput Draconis) in western astrology. The descending node is our south node – Ketu in Vedic astrology or the ‘dragon’s tail’ (Cauda Draconis) in western astrology.

Now, the fact is, the ecliptic only exists as a perspective. And the path of the moon’s orbit only exists in the past as a kind of invisible contrail and, in the future, as a trajectory. But, for all that these two paths find existence only in the temporal realm, their relationship, especially at intersection and furthest separation, has very real effects here on earth.

A first effect is the eclipse of either the sun or moon when these line up with the earth every six months across the nodal axis. Then, with either the earth or the moon playing piggy-in-the-middle depending on whether it’s a new or full moon, we lose one or other light for a time while foraging creatures lose out or gain depending on their foraging habits. The eclipses also herald times when the gravitational pull exerted between the sun and moon on the earth is great and, thus, coincide with high tides which can be extremely fortunate or unfortunate, depending again on perspective.

A second effect is the phenomenon known as the lunar standstill. This is the finale of the draconic period and analogous to our perspective of the sun’s behaviour during the northern hemisphere’s winter solstice. But, just as the sun doesn’t actually pause to mark the solstices, so the moon never stands still either. She just appears to from our perspective because her path is elliptical; because it is tilted away from the ecliptic so that the moon has declination, or celestial latitude; and because the lunar nodes precess around the ecliptic. They complete a full revolution, or draconic period, in about 18.6 years.

During these years, the moon appears to travel up the ascending node and down the descending node while the tilt of the lunar orbit first gradually subtracts from, then subtly adds to, the earth’s own 23.5 degree axial tilt until she reaches an additive maximum declination of 28.5 degrees at a major standstill. This, in astrological lingo, takes her a long way out of the sun’s bounds (of 23.5 degrees). As a consequence, once during the 18.6-year draconic period, when the ascending node of the moon’s orbit coincides with the vernal equinox point, she reaches extremes of celestial latitude as last happened in June 2006. Then the azimuth points of her rising and setting on the horizon swing wildly in a fortnight from extremely low to extremely high altitude as she crosses the meridian. This means that, again, there is the potential of extreme tides but, also, possibly very late first sightings of the new moon. Moreover, when the moon is over 4 degrees north of the ecliptic, she occults the star cluster, the Pleiades, and that implies much for navigational activities. As an aside, this perceived behaviour explains the south node’s astrologically malefic nature geometrically insofar as the southernmost point of the lunar orbit is also its apogee. In other words, this is a fallow saturnine place of low return, and of loss.

So, what we have in the lunar nodes are mathematical points whose effects are material but whose existence depends on perspective and whose action takes place in that fourth dimension known more commonly as time. And, because the lunar orbit is one of wobbly predictability, it’s easy to see why the nodes are about destiny: Given its path, it’s inevitable that the moon will come to its next standstill in late February 2025 and that this will be a time when the first sighting of the coincident new moon will come late. But, if this certain prediction is taking place in the fourth dimension, the question now has to be, what is this place? What is time? And this is an important question because the answer impacts the nature of destiny.

Intrinsically, all organisms have a temporal sense and judge time by seeking rhythmic environmental patterns, or zeitgebers, and entraining repeating biological functions to them. This entrainment leads to our pace-making circadian rhythms which are fundamental to life. Moreover, our interior sense of time in matching repeating exterior rhythms – such the rising and setting of the sun, the waxing and waning of the moon – gives us a sense of the circularity of time and a fundamental grasp of the eternal return. And this idea, exemplified in the behaviour of the nodes and most other celestial objects, gave ancient cultures such as the Babylonians their concept of time as a wheeling motion dependant for quality on the relationship between things it connects through intersection as it turns.

But wheeling time is presently dominated by our idea that time is linear and directional with its back to the beginning whilst facing the end. This idea developed in the ancient world when circular time bifurcated to become two. The ancient Greeks recognised these different senses of time as gods and gave them names: Kairos and Chronos. The former had a seasonal nature and latter was about counting and chronology. This linear time is a consequence of the rise of agriculture and the resultant development of writing and number. It is not relational, like circular time, but must exist outside us, as our container, in the lonely dimension of pure mathematics where abstractions rule. Linear time exists, not in reality, but as supra-reality in the symbolic realm.

But pure types are very uncommon and we rarely come across either pure circular time or pure linear time anymore. For example, in modern astrology, the tendency is to meld Kairos and Chronos so that cycles mark the move forward along straight individual paths to destiny. During ancient times, when circular understandings of time dominated, people took circular paths back to similar places each month and year and lifetime. In those times, astrological predictions related primarily to weather-forecasting and to religious-, mundane- and tide-timing. They also indicated the times to prepare and take medicine and make magic. But the idea that the stars directly affected personal destiny – except if one was a figurehead – was not well-developed. This is perhaps not least because, in those times, the facts of an individual’s destiny – as the pattern of a life rather than an ultimate destination – tended to be set at birth so that only large scale events really perturbed destiny’s path. Different times, different worldviews: different interpretations of destiny.

But, no matter whether the understanding of time is linear or circular or a mixture; no matter whether destiny is life’s pattern or its final purpose, the lunar nodes are reference points referring to a connection between the paths of the moon and the sun, as we see it on earth. These nodes might have no material existence but they have material effect. They have clear definite links with material destiny in circular time but, in linear time, these links must be either metaphysical or metaphorical. In mixed circular and linear time, they have material effects which result from metaphysical or metaphorical causes.

That’s the lunar nodes and that’s some of what they have to do with timing and destiny in a large sense. In a small Helen-sense, I’ll do what I love so much: I’ll watch and see.

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