Interpreting the celestial dragon
When we embark on our astrological journey one of the first things we learn are the zodiac signs and the planets. Once we get comfortable with those, we start seeing that there are other placements that add depth to the insight our chart can give us. One of those placements is the lunar nodes.
You might know the lunar nodes better as the North Node (NN) and South Node (SN) in your natal chart. Each of the nodes indicates a point on the ecliptic where the Sun and the Moon intersect as they move through the sky. So while the nodes aren't an asteroid or a planet, they still hold significance as the point where the Sun and Moon occasionally meet up. But what is the significance?
If you ask modern astrologers, and even some traditional ones, what the nodes signify, they'll likely say something that has to do with "karma" or "past experiences and past lives". I'm not here to tell you that's wrong, but I am here to give a clearer picture of what the nodes mean through a traditional Hellenistic lens. Because there's no evidence in Hellenistic astrology that the nodes hold any karmic ties. In fact, we don't have a whole lot of information to go off of when we look to the traditional Hellenistic teachings for guidance on this. It's actually in the Vedic teachings that we see a heavier importance placed on the nodes.
You may have heard the nodes referred to in terms of a dragon or a snake. In Vedic astrology the nodes are referred to as Rahu and Ketu. The mythology states that Rahu and Ketu used to be one being; a demon. Long story short, this demon managed to take a sip of an immortality drink and was immediately beheaded for drinking something that belonged solely to the Gods. Since the demon already drank the immortality juice, the separation of its head from its body didn't kill it. Instead, it went on living as two separate beings: Rahu and Ketu. The two parts of the demon were placed at two specific points between the Sun and the Moon (the nodal points), and would bring certain chaos and upheavals to anything that dared to cross their paths. Rahu is associated with the NN and Ketu with the SN.
Even though we'll be using Hellenistic and Medieval information to inform our understanding of the lunar nodes, I always like to include mythology when it's available. The imagery of a dragon rather suits the nodes, as we will see when we talk about what each of them signify. Before we dive into significations, here's a list of the popular names for the nodes. Each school of astrology has their own way of referring to them and I'll likely switch between names throughout this post because I'm chaotic like that.
North Node (NN)
South Node (SN)
North Node - Rahu - The Dragon's Head
Rahu is the head of the dragon and is considered to be insatiable. It can eat and eat and eat without feeling fulfilled because there is no stomach to fill. Since it's the head of the dragon it also contains the brain or the mind. Rahu is governed by the mental world. There is no feeling involved with Rahu, as the heart is not present. Not only is it guided by the mind, but it's also sensory driven, making it very physical. It has the eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. Rahu is constantly taking, engulfing, consuming, seeing, hearing, tasting, but none of it is ever enough.
Being that Rahu acts as sort of an endless pit of sensory information, it should be no surprise that one of the main significations of the NN in Hellenistic astrology is that it points towards desire or increase. The house that contains the NN in the native's chart is going to be one where there's a desire for more, almost insatiably so. This is very different from the main signification of modern astrology, where the NN acts as what we're moving towards in this lifetime.
South Node - Ketu - The Dragon's Tail
Ketu is the tail of the dragon, and it's actually everything from the shoulder region down. This means Ketu contains the heart, and will be guided by a more emotional force. Ketu cannot take anything in, as it has no mouth or sensory organs. This means Ketu relies on feelings to understand the world, making it not as physical as Rahu. Instead of ravenously consuming, Ketu excretes. Ketu is loss and lessening. It gives and gives to the point of total emptiness. It can almost be thought of as a bleeding heart that doesn't know when to stop because there's no logic attached to Ketu.
Wherever the SN is located in the native's chart there is a sense of decrease or subtraction. There is a giving away, losing, or falling away from quality to the SN. Whereas in modern astrology the SN indicates the place we're coming from and past karmic lessons.
Significations and Planetary Associations
A Medieval Arabic astrologer named Abu Ma'shar gave us some great insights about the lunar nodes and how they work in relation to the planets. Remember that we're only going to be dealing with the malefic and benefic planets when doing delineations. This is because the outer planets hadn't even been discovered yet when these ancient astrologers were doing their work.
Abu Ma'shar describes the the nodes in the following fashion:
"The nature of the Head of the Dragon is increasing, indeed if it were a lucky planet, it adds to the good; but if there were a malevolent star in it, it adds to the bad; but on the contrary, the Tail is decreasing what it finds. However, the Head is good with a good one, bad with a bad one. But the Tail is bad with a good one, good with a bad one."
We can see that he's referring to the nature of the nodes through the lens of them being increasing and decreasing forces in respect to what benefic or malefic is attached to them. This is the crux of how traditional astrologers viewed the nodes. The node itself does not denote "good" or "bad". The node denotes increase or decrease, and the planet attached to it denotes the nature of that experience. Here's a more modern break down of what Abu Ma'shar was saying:
The North Node and benefic planets increase the good
The North Node and malefic planets increase the bad
The South Node and benefic planets decrease the good
The South Node and malefic planets decrease the bad
The nodes never stray from their main objective. Rahu consumes and increases, Ketu excretes and decreases. It's the planetary associations that give the nodes their significations of "good" or "bad". So how do we interpret the nodes? Let's go over the parameters for nodal interpretation and look at an example.
Interpreting the Nodes
We already know that we're only looking at the 7 traditional planets when interpreting the nodes. That means, the Sun, the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Venus and Jupiter are the benefics, Mars and Saturn are the malefics. Mercury is mainly considered neutral but is benefic or malefic in nature depending on what influences it is receiving in the chart. The Sun and Moon don't necessarily fall into the same categories as the malefic and benefic planets and we'll discuss them separately.
Something important to note is that we only consider conjunctions when looking at the nodal relationships. In the traditional techniques only conjunctions (sometimes squares) were accounted for. This means that I won't be looking at other aspects in this post, or even in my practice in general. The nodes have a pretty significant orb though, so there's lots of room for a conjunction to happen. The nodes have an orb of 12°. This means that any traditional planet within 12° of a lunar node is considered to be conjunct with that node. Obviously the tighter the orb the better. In my personal practice I keep very tight orbs because I want to focus on the strongest and most influential placements (how Martian of me).
We know the planets involved and we know the allowable orb, so let's look at an example. Below we have Jennifer Aniston's birth chart. Her chart has the NN conjunct Venus and the SN conjunct Jupiter. If we go back to what Abu Ma'shar said, this means that her NN is going to increase the good of Venus, and her SN will decrease the good of Jupiter. The nodes are in the 1/7 house axis, which means relationship to self and relationships to others will be the main topics at hand.
Let's start with the NN in the 7th house. The 7th house deals with the topics of partnerships, marriage, and our close relationships that surpass friendship. This means she is going to feel a sense of urgency or ravenous increase in the area of intimate relationships. It's no secret that Jennifer Aniston has had a whirlwind romantic life. Being married to Brad Pitt and Justin Theroux, and then lots of suitors in-between and before those marriages as well; there was never a shortage of people for her to date. When we take Venus into account we see that the relationships were always good natured, despite their eventual demise. Jennifer is often quoted saying nothing but nice things about her past loves, and is even friends with a good majority of them. That's the goodness of Venus showing through. Yes, she's been married twice, but both marriages lasted multiple years and weren't ever viewed as a mistake and didn't end in utter ruin. There was just something more that she needed, so the ravenous nature of Rahu continues on as she searches for love.
The SN is in the 1st house and it's conjunct Jupiter. The first house is our physical self, sense of self, our body, and our character. Jupiter typically signifies our luck, wisdom, and expansion. Having the SN and Jupiter conjunct means that the impacts of Jupiter are actually going to be lessened. The SN is depleting Jupiter of its benefic nature. It's still a benefic planet, but the SN conjunction really strips away a lot of Jupiter's impact in the chart. The SN being in the 1st house speaks to Jennifer giving away her sense of self. She depletes her own identity by over-identifying with the relationship at hand. There's a quote from her where she's talking about not dating for a long time after her divorce from Justin Theroux and she says:
"I didn't want to date for a long time. I loved really being my own woman. Without being a part of a couple. I've been a part of a couple since I was 20, so there was something really nice about taking the time."
This quote really helps to illustrate her lunar nodes. She was always giving part of herself away and tying her sense of self to another person. It was a decrease in sense of self and increase in relationship to others. Looking at it from the planets involved, there was decreased luck (Jupiter) and increased love (Venus). The decrease in Jupiter even means that there was little expansion happening. But we can also glean from that quote that as Jennifer has gotten older and wiser, she's been able to see the merit in self-expansion and allowed herself to just *be* for awhile.
Nodes and the Luminaries
I said the Sun and Moon had a different relationship with the nodes, so we'll discuss that now. Since the luminaries are not inherently malefic or benefic, we treat them as just increasing or decreasing depending on which node they're with. If the Sun is with the NN, then we have an increase of the significations of the Sun. If the Sun is with the SN, then we have a decrease of the significations of the Sun. The way I like to look at it is the NN turns up the light, the SN dims the light.
The Moon is the oddball, and an ominous one at that. Abu Ma'shar states that having with Moon conjunct either of the nodes leads to upheavals. There's a sense of instability and change happening with the chart. It's an intense conjunction that is subjecting the native's emotional and subconscious world to either the head or tail of a dragon. In relation to nodal transits, Vettius Valens warns that the nodes conjunct the Moon are not good for starting projects as it will make them unstable and have unpredictable outcomes. This may have been because when the Moon is conjunct either of the nodes during a new or full Moon, it signifies an eclipse. And we all know that eclipses bring about intense changes and have an unpredictable air to them.
Nodes Without Conjunctions
You might be sitting here reading this and thinking..."My lunar nodes aren't conjunct a planet or a luminary". And that's okay! There's still meaning to be had from the nodes, even if they aren't in a conjunction. What we do when the nodes are by themselves is simply look to the houses they're in for meaning. If they're in the 1/7 like Jennifer Aniston's, then we'll be seeing relationship to self and others and the main focus. If they're in the 4/10 then we'll see a push and pull between public life and personal life. What remains the same is that wherever the NN is we see an increase and drive for more, and wherever the SN is we see a depletion and emptying out.
I hope this has helped you Babes to understand the lunar nodes a little better. They're a point that often gets overlooked or misunderstood. Even I didn't appreciate them as much as I should have when I first started studying astrology. They're not a placement that immediately comes to mind when you think of the heavy hitters in a chart. But I have truly come to love the lunar nodes the more I work with them and study them. Plus, they are the LUNAR nodes, and anything that has to do with the Moon is kinda my business.