Dear NightFall Astrology readers,
The expressions “North Node” and “South Node” or “Nodal Axis” are thrown around a lot in astrology. But what exactly do they refer to, and what do they mean in your chart? In this article, I will explain why the Nodes of the Moon mean what they do, how they can show up in your chart, and why they can’t exactly be looked at as karmic and destiny/evolutionary indicators.
So, make sure you read the entire article to get a foundational understanding before making up your own mind about whether you’ll follow or continue to follow the modern (humanistic and evolutionary) take on the Nodes of the Moon.
I. The astronomical definition of the Lunar Nodes:
Let’s define the Nodes from an astronomical perspective first. The lunar nodes are not physical entities or mathematical concepts. They are, instead, specific points in space where the Moon’s orbital plane crosses the ecliptic, which is the Sun’s apparent path. The lunar nodes represent the two locations where the paths of the Sun and Moon intersect. During a New Moon or Full Moon, when the Moon’s orbital plane aligns with the ecliptic, an eclipse occurs, with one celestial body passing in front of the other and obscuring its light. Therefore, Eclipses signify the blockage of energy from the Sun or Moon.
The ecliptic is the visible yearly path of the Sun, either marked by the solstices and equinoxes in the tropical zodiac or the constellations in the sidereal zodiac. The majority of the planets’ orbits lie within 15 degrees of the celestial latitude north or south of the ecliptic. As a result, their orbits are inclined at various angles to the ecliptic’s plane. The nodes refer to the points where the planets’ orbits cross the plane of the ecliptic’s orbit.
The Moon’s orbital path deviates at an average angle of 5 degrees and 8 minutes from the ecliptic. The point at which these two orbital planes intersect forms an axis, known as the nodes. The ascending or North Node refers to the point where the Moon’s path crosses the ecliptic from south to north latitude, while the descending or South Node refers to where the Moon’s path crosses the ecliptic from north to south latitude. The Moon spends an equal amount of time above and below the ecliptic plane in northern and southern celestial latitudes, respectively. The average ascending and descending nodes always occupy the same degree in opposing signs of the zodiac, but true nodes exhibit minor variations from perfect opposition. In some instances, when utilising true node positions, one node may occupy the final degrees of one sign. In contrast, the other node may occupy the initial degrees of the opposing sign. The nodes move in reverse through the zodiac signs at a rate of approximately 3 degrees per day, and the nodal cycle completes a period of 18.5996 years.
II. The Lunar Nodes’ significations in astrology:
A. The Lunar Nodes in Ancient and Medieval astrology:
Astrologically, the North Node, also referred to as Rahu or “the head of the dragon”, and the South Node, also referred to as Ketu or “the tail of the dragon” (in Vedic astrology), aren’t planets; they’re points. Therefore, they are unable to form true aspects with other planetary bodies. According to the doctrine of an aspect casting a ray in Hellenistic astrology, the North Node, for instance, cannot trine anything. Being a different kind of body, it cannot form such an association with a planet. Still, they can be planetary conjunctions because conjunctions are not aspects in the conventional sense. Note that the North Node and South Node of the Moon are stomachless, meaning they have no physical substance along this axis. They are illusory or shadow planets because they are incapable of absorbing nutrients.
The myth of the dragon’s head and tail is way older than Vedic astrology and mythology. In the fourth century C.E., Sassanian Persian astrology texts referred to the nodes as the Dragon’s Head and Dragon’s Tail. These names were adopted into Hellenistic literature by the early seventh century C.E. In a Babylonian creation myth from the first millennium B.C.E., Marduk kills the dragon Tiamat and its head and tail form the upper and lower hemispheres of the world. A Zoroastrian text about the thema mundi, or the astrological chart of the world’s creation, includes a variation of this tale. Hindu mythology also recounts the beheading of a world dragon, with its head known as Rahu and its tail as Ketu. These figures were integrated into astrological symbology as the north and south nodes.
Hellenistic astrologers mentioned the lunar nodes in passing, referring to them as Anabibazo and Katabibazo, which meant “to make go up” and “to make go down,” respectively. However, they did not attribute the same significance to them as is given today. Vettius Valens, an astrologer of the Hellenistic period, wrote that if benefic planets are conjoined with either of the nodes, particularly the ascending node, it indicates success and reputation, while malefic planets bring loss and accusations. In another section of his work, Valens explained that the nodes weaken the power of the zodiacal signs they occupy, as well as the power of their rulers.
According to contemporary Vedic interpretation, the north node, Rahu, is associated with material or sensual pleasures. In contrast, the south node, Ketu, is associated with the powers of the unconscious mind, including irrational fears, wisdom, and enlightenment. During medieval times, the north node was viewed as benefic, with the qualities of Venus and Jupiter and capable of bringing honours and riches in line with the planet it was joined to, while the south node was seen as malefic, embodying the traits of Mars and Saturn and likely to cause poverty and afflictions based on the character of the planet it was connected to.
In the Western tradition, these lunar nodes were understood this way until the beginning of the 20th century. The historical association of good and bad with the north and south nodes may stem from the north node’s upward northward motion above the ecliptic plane, which is associated with the ascent of the spirit. In contrast, the south node’s downward southward motion beneath the ecliptic plane is linked to the descent of the soul into the matter and therefore devalued.
During medieval times, the north node was considered to be favourable, as it was associated with the qualities of Venus and Jupiter and was believed to bring wealth and recognition depending on the planet it was aligned with. Conversely, the south node was considered unfavourable, with the qualities of Mars and Saturn, and believed to bring poverty and suffering depending on the planet it was aligned with. These beliefs persisted in Western tradition until the early 20th century. The upward northward motion of the north node, which is associated with the ascent of the spirit, was highly valued. In contrast, the downward southward motion of the south node, associated with the soul’s descent into matter, was devalued, suggesting a historical association of good and bad with the north and south node.
B. The Lunar Nodes in Modern psychological & evolutionary astrology:
In modern evolutionary and psychological astrology of the 20th century, things definitely took a very different turn. There are astrologers who popularised saying that the South Node is the bottle and the North Node is the meeting, the same as solving your addiction, or that the South Node is what we need to move away from, and the North Node is what we need to evolve into. And a lot of the reason for these interpretations just stems from the fact that they didn’t have access to the aforementioned ancient texts, and mainly from Dane Rudhyar’s 1936 theory/postulate that was influenced by theosophical New-Age concepts that blended Neoplatonism, Hinduism, and Buddhism in the late 19th century.
The Astrology of Personality, which was published in 1936 by Rudhyar, introduced a (what was and is thought) thorough and comprehensive explanation of the psychological significance of the nodes, setting a precedent for subsequent literature on the subject. According to Rudhyar’s perspective, the nodal axis represents the path of destiny that lies between the individual’s point of origin and their ultimate goals, generating a sense of tension that drives the personality forward. He writes:
If we should lie along the nodal axis, we would look into the future
facing North and accept the past facing South. The North Node deals,
therefore with the work to be done, the new accomplishment, the new
faculty to be developed; and if we are willing to exert ourselves in that
direction, from it we shall receive power in abundance. The South Node
represents the work that has been done, the well-known accomplishment,
the routine performance already gone through many times, perhaps—the
easy way out. The opposition between, on one hand, self-integration,
individuation, effort, the line of greatest connection through exertion;
and on the other hand, self-undoing, automatism, inertia, the line of least
By adding the concepts of karma and reincarnation to the nodes, the south node represents negative karma from previous lives, although this is not always the case. In contrast, the north node is associated with actions that result in future incarnations, which can lead to a positive rebirth if the actions are conscious and motivated with good intentions.
III. Why the Lunar Nodes can’t be associated with Karma & Destiny by default:
Much of what we know today and read about the Nodes from traditional astrology’s perspective was recently translated within the past ten to twenty to thirty years. Thus, many of the 19th and 20th-century findings around this didn’t come from a rooted understanding of the subject. Basically, the modern paradigm separates the two into what we’re evolving out of and what we’re evolving into, which is really different from any ancient perspective. I’m not just arbitrarily saying that because it was said that it must be doctrine.
Still, I do think that the modern interpretations stem from an obsession with progress and free will (and astrology keeps demonstrating that most of our life is already predetermined and we only have “free choice” and not “free will”, but that’s another topic for another article). Whereas the older interpretations better fit astronomy and our innate understanding of what these shadow planets are.
Also, despite the fact that astrology is a metaphysical science, there’s a great deal of empiricism to it. And the North Node pointing to our destiny and the South Node representing our karmic baggage haven’t had enough testing and empirical data to confirm such theory. If anything, the Lunar Nodes should be strictly looked at from the Moon’s lens (they are, after all, the Nodes of the Moon).
Every part of the horoscope tells us something about the individual’s stage of development, but if I had to pick one body that seemed especially relevant to karma, it would be Saturn. I believe there is a direct connection between the Moon’s nodes and all things lunar. Since the nodes used in astrology are the Moon’s nodes and not the nodes of the other bodies, I get the impression that the nodes have much to do with inheritance and direct interpersonal relationships from another time. Like the Moon, the nodes represent the masses or those who are impacted by the native’s words or deeds in ways that are not immediately obvious to the native.
Furthermore, the positive and negative connotations given to the Nodes by modern astrology cannot possibly disprove or replace thousands of years of observation of eclipses as celestial omina (the nodes are where eclipses happen, remember?) since the ancient Babylonians. Some crisis or disruption always accompanies an eclipse.
Also, since astrology and all occult sciences’ purpose is to interpret and apply the ancient philosophy called “Hermeticism”, it is particularly relevant to consider such details when we’re analysing the lunar nodes, too. Meaning that astrology is based on the emission of light or celestial bodies being seen through the naked eye. The Moon is a satellite that orbits the Earth and reflects light, but it is not a star or planet. Aristotle believed that the celestial realm was made of Ether, while everything below the Moon consisted of a mixture of the four elements, which changed through hot, cold, wet, and dry qualities. The Moon transmitted the influences of celestial bodies to the physical realm and played a role in generating and corrupting elements. Due to its proximity to Earth, it was believed to have a close connection to the human body and health.
The Moon, as a reflector of light and linked to our heritage, can thus represent in a way our karmic memory/past conditioning and astral body, but it cannot be seen as a destination in itself. It’s our reflexes and emotional responses. It’s our soul (the vessel of emotional memory throughout our incarnations).
However, the Sun (on which our entire Western tropical — and even Babylonian since it’s both Solar and Lunar — astrology is based) represents the inner flame, the Divine spark, the core identity… This is its highest manifestation. The Sun is what links us to our heavenly Father or the Universe, so to speak.
So, from that perspective (and I’ve heard this being said by other astrologers), the Sun in a chart is really our destiny because each incarnation’s purpose is to get us closer to God through Gnosis. The Sun is mental.
Pre-Socratic philosophers such as Heraclitus (c. 535 BC – c. 475 BC) considered fire to be the most fundamental of all elements. He believed fire gave rise to the other three elements: “All things are an interchange for fire, and fire for all things, just like goods for gold and gold for goods.” He described how fire gave rise to the other elements as the: “upward-downward path”, (ὁδὸς ἄνω κάτω), a “hidden harmony” or series of transformations he called the “turnings of fire”, (πυρὸς τροπαὶ), first into sea, and half that sea into earth, and half that earth into rarefied air. This is a concept that anticipates both the four classical elements of Empedocles and Aristotle’s transmutation of the four elements into one another.
“This world, which is the same for all, no one of gods or men has made. But it always was and will be: an ever-living fire, with measures of it kindling, and measures going out”.
Heraclitus regarded the soul as being a mixture of fire and water, with fire being the more noble part and water the ignoble aspect. He believed the goal of the soul is to be rid of water and become pure fire: the dry soul is the best and it is worldly pleasures that make the soul “moist”. The qualities of dry, moist, hot, and cold are what, centuries later, Ptolemy assigned to the 7 traditional planets in astrology. In his delineation, we find that both the Sun and the Moon are hot, but the Sun is dry, and the Moon is moist. This makes sense because the Moon rules the water sign of Cancer and is exalted in the earth sign of Taurus, relates to bodily matters, daily activities and emotions, to which must be added that water and earth are the most tangible of all the 4 elements.
Aristotle considered that fire, the hot and dry element, like the other elements, was an abstract principle and not identical to the normal solids, liquids and combustion phenomena we experience.
Thus, the Moon is our soul, but the Sun is our Spirit. The Bible gives a very good differentiation between these two. In 1 Thessalonians 5:23, we find, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
If we delve into this verse, it clearly states that we are composed of three parts: The body, the soul, and the spirit. The verse also uses the word “and,” which in the original Greek language means to differ from each other. Thus, this clearly states that each part is different and plays a different role in us. And we all know that the Bible is rooted in earlier spirituality and philosophy.
Indeed, while the soul is the source of our expression through our humanity, it has its limitations, and the only way we can experience God is through our spirit. The soul is merely a channel.
The illustrious French occultist Dr Gérard Encausse (Papus) and others from the Renaissance until the 19th century talk about this, and it does make sense.
If we look at Ancient Egyptians, they revered the Sun, and their main God was Amun-Ra. They also believed in reincarnation.
Papus gives this amazing illustration of the 3 parts that constitute the human being: the coachman representing our Spirit (the Sun), the horse representing our soul/astral body (the Moon), and the carriage representing our physical body (the Ascendant and its ruling planet).
If the coachman leaves, the carriage and horse become lifeless, directionless/purposeless. It all makes perfect sense…
In conclusion, I’d rather rely on the traditional increase/decrease principle alongside potential conjunctions with the malefic or benefic planets (rather than modern speculations) when it comes to analysing the Nodes in a chart.
References and further reading:
- Bowser Kenneth, An Introduction to Western Sidereal Astrology, Third Edition, American Federation of Astrologers (2021).
- Dykes Benjamin, Introductions to Traditional Astrology (Abus Ma’shar and Al-Qabisi), Cazimi Press (2010).
- George Demetra, Astrology and the Authentic Self, Hays (Nicolas) Ltd ,U.S. (2009).
- Valens Vettius, The Anthology, translated by Mark T. Riley, Amor Fati Publications (2022).
Thank you for reading.
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