L is for the lunar nodes

First, the technical part of the discussion. The Moon goes around the Earth. The Earth goes around the Sun, but most Western astrology is geocentric, so let’s pretend the Sun goes around the Earth too. The Moon’s path is at an angle to the Sun’s, which means that the two paths appear to cross each other. The two points at which the paths “meet” are the lunar nodes.

Solar eclipse.
Nodes made visible: when the Sun and the Moon are at a node at the same time, a solar eclipse results.

In an astrological chart, the nodes are exactly opposite each other, and their meanings are opposites as well. The North Node is associated with gain, the future, and the unfamiliar; the South Node with loss, the past, and the familiar. But what role the Moon’s nodes play in a natal chart hasn’t been entirely nailed down. In traditional astrology, the North Node is “good” and the South Node is “bad.” Nowadays, that interpretation is considered fatalistic and simplistic, and yes, I’d hesitate to use it when interpreting a natal chart. But when interpreting a horary chart, that’s often a useful way to see the nodes. Questions are less complicated than people, and sometimes all you need to know is if something is good or not. For example, years ago, my cat became ill and the vet couldn’t figure out why. She suggested some additional tests, warning me that this might be fruitless. Since the tests would stress my cat out even more and were expensive, I asked if they would be worth it. In addition to several signs that they would be useless, the South Node (loss) was in the second house (finances): not only a waste of time, but a waste of money. I skipped the tests; the cat got better on her own.

In modern astrology, there’s definitely a spiritual flavor to the nodes’ interpretation. Many people believe the nodes link your chart (a map of your present life) to your past lives (South Node) and your future (North Node). Seen this way, the South Node shows things you learned in previous incarnations.* These are skills that come to you naturally, habit patterns that you fall into without thinking, and instinctive behaviors. By contrast, the North Node indicates what you’re here to learn in this lifetime. The behaviors it describes have to be consciously worked on and you probably won’t be all that good at them because they’re new to you. I’d love to say that we’ve left polarized interpretations behind, but no. Often, the South Node is still seen as “bad:” you should resist the urge to rely on those old ways of thinking and behaving and work on learning the lessons of the North Node. But if the South Node is supposed to signify all this stuff I learned in my past lives, then why would I want to completely abandon that learning? It’s one thing to have never used the quadratic formula after graduating from high school, quite another to take the experiences of entire lifetimes and decide that any use of that experience is regressive.

astrological node glyphs
The glyphs for the North and South Nodes.

So, without really knowing where I’m going with this, I’m trying to find a more nuanced way to work with the nodes. As I mentioned in the technical bit, the lunar nodes mark the point at which the Moon’s path crosses the Sun’s. This could mean that the nodes show a way to integrate the Sun and Moon in your chart. Seen that way, the North Node does have solar qualities to it: the need to be conscious, to choose how you will act, while the South Node is more lunar: unconscious, instinctive behavior and old habit patterns. Perhaps the key is something like learning North Node lessons so well that they begin to become instinctive, while becoming aware enough of South Node behavior that you do it only when you consciously choose to. Easy to say, difficult to do!

*An explanation that doesn’t involve reincarnation: the South Node shows your natural talents, genetic inheritance, while the North Node indicates areas that you have no natural inclination towards, that can be ways to grow.

Photo credit: nasa.gov


5 thoughts on “L is for the lunar nodes

  1. Your footnote on a non-reincarnation interpretation *really* doesn’t allow the South Node to be labelled “bad”. Imagine telling someone they should eschew using their natural talents. I’m going to try using this interpretation.


    1. The reincarnation interpretation for the nodes is so ubiquitous in modern astrology that it’s a challenge to talk about them in any other way. Much to my frustration, I ended up saying “all this stuff I learned in my past lives” and “to take the experiences of entire lifetimes” even though I’m not convinced that reincarnation happens, because that was the easiest language to use. I give credit to Steven Forrest for the idea of the genetic inheritance interpretation (but I think he personally favors a reincarnation/karma model).

      I don’t want to paint a rosy picture of the South Node: unconscious biases and habitual behavior can get you into trouble. But there have been times in my life where I reacted from my South Node and that turned out to be the “right” response even if it was for all the “wrong” reasons. I want to work with an interpretation that allows for context.


  2. Remembered what you said about when the Sun and Moon meet at a node, there is a solar eclipse. So looked up on the ephemeris when that would happen next. According to that, it will be on October 31st. The Old Farmer’s Almanac says that there will be a total solar eclipse on November 3rd, even partially visible in the US.


    1. I’m not seeing one listed for October 31. My ephemeris lists a lunar eclipse on October 18, and agrees that there’s a solar eclipse on November 3, an annular-total eclipse, which sounds impressive as all get-out.


      1. I found the eclipse dates at http://www.almanac.com/astronomy/eclipse-dates.

        Thought maybe I’d done my lookups and calculations wrong, but not really. My ephemeris says that the Sun will be conjunct the North Node on October 31st. Then of course we have to be in a new Moon, and that’s on November 3rd, when the Sun and North Node are still only about three degrees apart. Guess that’s close enough for an eclipse to form.


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