The Moon through the Minor Arcana

Astrologers recognize that the Sun and the Moon aren’t planets, but since they share so many functions with the planets, they’re usually grouped with them. The Moon is the fastest “planet” in the Chaldean order. In astrology, the Moon represents the emotions and instincts. Its placement in your natal chart shows what you need to feel safe and where you feel the most at home. Unlike the other planets, the Moon visibly changes shape in a regular cycle. By extension, the Moon is associated with cycles, and its related tarot cards often have meanings related to growth, loss, and change.

Nine of Wands (Moon in Sagittarius)

In any suit, the Nine is the next-to-last stage of development. By this point, the Wands project has been developed, tested, assessed, reworked, and tested again. The Nine of Wands—called Lord of Great Strength by the Golden Dawn and simply Strength by Aleister Crowley—has survived all its trials, but it’s showing some wear and tear. Sagittarius, the mutable fire sign, is not all that concerned with its personal safety when it’s pursuing the Truth, and the headlong rush shown in the Eight of Wands has resulted in a few injuries and the wisdom of experience. The Moon is not sure all that fiery passion is safe (it isn’t), and safety is one of the Moon’s primary concerns. So the man in the Nine of Wands is on the lookout for the next threat. Unlike the wands flying free in the Eight, eight wands of the Nine have been turned into a defensive line, while the ninth is at hand to be a crutch or a weapon as needed. The man shows an injury, but he’s alert and on guard against whatever might happen next. The tension between the Moon’s need to protect and be safe and Sagittarius’s need to be free to explore may not make the Nine of Wands quite the “bad card” that Waite calls it, but it’s not restful.

Four of Cups (Moon in Cancer)

The Moon rules Cancer and is at home in that sign, usually happier than when it’s in other, more exciting signs. Cancer is the cardinal water sign, and has a lot in common with the Moon: a focus on nurturance and care, a need for safety, and so on. And yet the Waite-Smith Four of Cups is not a happy card. Here, the Moon’s love of security and the rigidity stability of Four has produced a closed system in need of a little fresh air. This is the card of “familiarity breeds contempt:” often we don’t see the beauty in what we’re used to, taking it for granted. Pamela Colman Smith’s illustration shows a young man who has three perfectly good cups and clearly doesn’t care for any of them. The fourth cup is identical to the others, but why it hovers is magical…and totally wasted on him, since he’s too wrapped up in his discontent to notice. Think Dorothy Gale and how she had to be whisked away to Oz before she could really appreciate Kansas.

For the Golden Dawn, the Four of Cups was the Lord of Blended Pleasure, perhaps suggesting that there was some happiness to be had in the familiar, even if you were mostly bored with it. In the Thoth deck, this card is Luxury. In some respects, things are still good. The water flows between the cups and it’s clear. The cups are a bright, shiny gold, and the structure of cups and flowers looks stable. And yet, there are hints that things are starting to stagnate. The top two cups are resting on lotus blossoms, but they’re so heavy, the flowers have been squished flat underneath them. The water on the “floor” of the card is rippling and the sky is gray, as though a storm is gathering. The Moon in Cancer may be unwilling to change even as a situation begins to deteriorate, but change is likely to happen anyway.

Two of Swords (Moon in Libra)

The Moon symbolizes the emotions, and so it’s always at least a little at odds with its placement when it’s in a mental/intellectual/verbal air sign. That said, the Moon in Libra is not in a hostile setting. Libra, the cardinal air sign, desires balance and harmony. Calmness isn’t the same thing as security, but it’s far more soothing than the rambunctious energy of Sagittarius, and Libra gives the Moon a moment to collect itself, perhaps inspiring the Golden Dawn title Lord of Peace Restored and the Thoth title Peace.

But calmness really isn’t the same thing as security, and despite the titles, there’s tension in this card. The Moon is changeable by nature and the emotions it rules can be wild and messy. Libra’s sense of beauty and harmony can be more like a still life, perfect and unchanging. In the Waite-Smith deck, the woman is consciously seeking Libran peace and quiet. She has turned her back on the (changeable) moon and the rippling water. She has put a blindfold on—is it perhaps also covering her ears? Having cut herself off from the world around her, she can focus purely on her thoughts, for better or worse. However, the swords she holds look heavy, and she will have to put them down or drop them soon. The moon will eventually set, the sun will rise…the peace she has created cannot last.

Seven of Swords (Moon in Aquarius)

With the Seven of Swords, the Moon finds itself in the fixed air sign of Aquarius. Aquarius isn’t a congenial home for the Moon. The Moon’s need for emotional connection is at odds with the cool intellectual detachment of Aquarius, and the Moon is stranded in a cold, sterile environment. Perhaps it’s not surprising that the Golden Dawn named the Seven of Swords Lord of Unstable Effort, implying ambiguity. In the Waite-Smith deck, a smiling man runs off with five swords, leaving two behind; off in the distance, silhouetted figures seem not to notice the theft. There’s a sense of unfinished business with the Seven of Swords.

In the Thoth deck, the Seven of Swords is named Futility. Six swords, bearing the glyphs of the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are aimed at a much larger, nicked sword with the glyph of the Sun. (The Sun holds the solar system together in astronomy and it dominates the Moon and the other planets in astrology.) Whether the six weaker forces try to appease the stronger one, or a once-great force is slowly worn down by smaller ones, there will be no great and honorable victory here.

Six of Pentacles (Moon in Taurus)

Back at the Four of Cups, the Moon was at home in Cancer, the sign that it rules. But it was so much at home that this was a bit too much of a good thing. Like lounging around at home wearing any old clothes you feel comfy in, the Moon in Cancer tends to only do what feels good. With the Six of Pentacles, the Moon is in Taurus, the fixed earth sign. Cancer, a water sign, did nothing to stabilize the Moon’s changes, but Taurus is all about the stability. Now it’s less like lazing around at home by yourself and more like being a guest somewhere where you’re having a good time and you’re loved, but everyone expects you to get up, get dressed, and be ready to go every morning. Taurus’s stability tied Mercury down (Five of Pentacles) and its fertility was wilted by Saturn’s austerity (Seven of Pentacles), but it brings out the best in the Moon, leading to the Golden Dawn title of Lord of Material Success and the Thoth title Success. In Taurus, the Moon feels safe. And feeling secure, the Moon is willing to help others. In the Waite-Smith Six of Pentacles, a rich man gives coins to two beggars. The scale he carries suggests several different ideas: that he’s only giving the beggars what he thinks they deserve, that he’s making sure not to give so much that he impoverishes himself, that he’s giving what’s fair. He is successful, and in his prosperity, he reaches out to others.

For other posts in this series, see Astrology of the Minor Arcana.

W is for waxing and waning

Waxing and waning are terms that mean “growing” and “shrinking” respectively. Neither is limited to an astronomical context (“As he waxed eloquent on his own magnificence, her interest in him waned.”), but they often refer to the monthly changes in the apparent size of the Moon as it moves from new to full (waxing) and back again (waning).

montage of the waxing and waning moon

Planning activities to coincide with the waxing or waning Moon is an easy form of magical timing. Many everyday calendars show the phases of the Moon, so you don’t need buy a special book or bookmark an obscure website. The idea is, start activities related to growth and increase during the two weeks of the waxing Moon. If on the other hand you’re trying to reduce or diminish something, then time it for the two weeks that the Moon is waning.

Lunar gardening makes extensive use of the waxing and waning Moon, although it gets a little more complicated than just growing and reducing. For one thing, stuff that goes on above the ground is related to the waxing Moon, while that which happens in the ground is related to the waning Moon. You can refine the system even more by paying attention to which sign of the zodiac that the Moon is in, since some signs are considered fruitful and others barren. 

Sample activities for a waxing Moon:

  • Cut your hair if you wish it to grow faster. Similarly, you’d mow your lawn now if you wanted it to grow faster, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say they wanted that to happen. Maybe if you’d just seeded your lawn, but then you wouldn’t have anything to mow yet.
  • Sell things for the best chance at a good price. While selling something means you’re getting rid of it (waning Moon), you’re focusing on what you can get for it, which relates to the waxing Moon. Centuries ago, the astrologer Dorotheus of Siddon concluded that the second quarter is better than the first for getting a good price, so this is when I haul books to the used book store.
  • Plant annuals. Usually we’re interested in their flowers, fruit, and/or leaves, which counts as above-the-ground.
  • Harvest herbs for their flowers and/or leaves.

Sample activities for a waning Moon:

  • Cut your hair if you wish it to grow slower. Ditto for mowing the lawn, only I bet this will be a much more popular time.
  • Declutter a closet, clean out the garage, etc.
  • Plant biennials, perennials, bulbs, trees, and root vegetables. The waning Moon favors the roots, and you want good root structure to support these plants for years—or to make great potatoes and carrots for this year.
  • Harvest herbs for their roots.
  • Weed the garden.
  • Prune trees and shrubs.

But does it work? I…don’t know. I choose to act as if it does. I prefer the idea of a cosmos in which energy moves in accordance with planets, where waxing and waning moons have observably different effects. It’s a major part of the “magical lifestyle” I want. At a practical level, it gives me deadlines to work to: clean out the refrigerator before the Moon begins to wax again, remember to sell these books before the Moon becomes full or be stuck with them for another month. And if that gets me to do something that needs to be done, a lot of the time, that’s enough.

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:

A small astrological coincidence:

Tomorrow is April Fools Day. Tomorrow, the Moon goes void-of-course precisely at midnight CDT and will stay like that until it enters the sign of Capricorn at 12:35 AM CDT on April 2. Simplifying greatly, when the Moon is void-of-course, things that are started never really get going (“nothing will come of it” was how it was first described to me). So basically, the Moon spends April Fools Day VOC, which seems both appropriate as all get-out and really trivial—and even that seems just right for April Fools Day.