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The Moon's Nodes
In astrology, the Moon's Nodes (the Dragon's Head and Tail) are not planets in the strict astronomical sense, but rather sensitive points on the ecliptic, where the pathway of the Moon crosses the course of the Sun. The ecliptic is the path of the Sun through the heavens as seen from the Earth and projected onto the Celestial Sphere. The pathway of the Moon around the Earth is not the same as the ecliptic, so the body of the "energy dragon" is the fourth-dimensional path of the Moon by declination, as she weaves her web around the earth.
The nodes are also known as the Dragon's Head (Caput Draconis), the North Node, and Dragon's Tail (Cauda Draconis), the South Node, and in Indian Astrology they are called Rahu and Ketu respectively. In mythology, the Dragon sought to devour the Sun, the life-force, and the Moon, the emotional being, thus explaining the eclipses. There is a good deal we can learn from a deep consideration of this myth.
In Western Astrology, the Dragon's Head, a "shadow planet" exalted in Gemini, is considered generally benefic (good), whilst the Dragon's Tail, exalted in Sagittarius, is considered malefic (evil) in influence. Indian (Vedic) Astrology considers both nodes to be markedly unfortunate, due to their karmic, instinctive and unconscious nature, with Rahu being the worse. After all, in the pursuit of moksha (liberation), "good" karma is just as binding as "bad" karma—and more seductive. Since they are shadow planets with no direct influence of their own, their location and aspects in the chart are of more than usual significance, and the influence of their conjunctions and their planetary dispositors is significant, for they reflect and amplify the nature of these planets. Since you have found this page, you probably know where the nodes are in your own horoscope, but if you don't, to find the position of the nodes you can calculate your own birthchart here [NOTE: the South Node is exactly opposite the North Node; South Node is not displayed in this calculator].
The motion of the Moon's Mean Node is retrograde through the zodiac at the rate of roughly one degree every 19 days (compare the 19 year cycle of lunation). I should clarify here that the Moon's Mean Node is always retrograde, but the True Node oscillates according to the Moon's "wobble". This is caused by the gravitational effects of the Earth/Moon interaction, so the True Node sometimes has periods of direct motion, which in the myth represents the stirring of the cosmic ocean, or our emotional stability at a personal level. These periods of direct motion are considered unfortunate, as they go against the "natural motion" of the nodes. The Mean Node averages this "wobble" out, so giving a clearer picture.
Eclipses and Moon Wobbles
The placement of the Nodes illustrates a relationship between the Moon, the Earth and the Sun. The Moon's Nodes mark the points where the path of the Moon's orbit around the Earth crosses the path of the ecliptic (the apparent path of the Sun and planets around the Earth) as viewed from the surface of the Earth. An eclipse takes place when either a New Moon (producing a Solar Eclipse) or a Full Moon (producing a Lunar Eclipse) occurs close to the either of the Nodes. As ancient astrologer-priests discovered, Eclipses can thus be calculated by observing the movement of the nodal axis, shown by Dwight Ennis in Eclipses and the Moon's Nodes.
As astrologer Carl Payne Tobey (1902-1980) discovered in the 1930's after a painstaking examination of a large number of major disasters, many of the most serious and traumatic catastrophes involving fire, bad weather and loss of life occur in association with eclipses, when the Sun and Moon are conjunct the Moon's Nodes, especially when other unfortunate planetary aspects coincide. However, not all of these evils are exclusively linked with eclipses, for many are associated with the Sun forming a T-square to the nodal axis, i.e. when the Sun is in a 90° aspect to the nodes. This he called a Moon Wobble, because in fact it is when the Moon is "wobbling" in its path by declination. So when the Sun forms an aspect to the nodes of 0°, 90°, or 180°, we experience a significant likelihood of massive environmental damage with much loss of life and property. These Moon Wobbles occur every 86.5 days on average, with an orb of approximately 5 degrees (days) on either side of the precise date, when the Sun forms either the T-square with the nodal axis, or the conjunction with the North or South Nodes. Some astrologers hold that the two weeks before the partile aspect are problematic, with the week following the aspect also being notable in terms of disasters.
The Significance of the Nodes
The significance of the Nodes has been widely underestimated in Western Astrology over the past fifty years or so, due to some extent to the rise of "psychological" or "humanistic" interpretative paradigms that have devalued many traditional features of the astrologer's toolkit. However, traditional Western astrology along with Vedic, or Indian astrology, places the Nodes on the same critical level of importance as the Sun, Moon and other visible planets. They are the personal eclipse points of the chart. There is no doubt that this elevation of the Nodes to planetary status is justified, for experience shows that the movement of the Nodes has a very significant effect on human life and on the destinies of all beings who dwell on the surface of the Earth. Believe me, the Moon's Nodes are very important!
Progressions and transits to the natal Nodes invariably signify major releases of energy, related to the planet in question and the house activated thereby. The transiting nodes also have a remarkably powerful effect whenever they pass over a natal planet or other chart factor, such as the Part of Fortune (material wellbeing), the ascendant/descendant cusps (self vs other) or the MC/IC (public/career vs private/domestic). The Dragon's Tail in particular seems to mark relationships with a genuinely karmic quality, often signifying the emergence (and sometimes finalising) of commitments from the deep past. The Dragon's Head is more concerned with activating or energising personal ambitions, aims and developing purposes.
The Nodal Degree
The degree in which the North Node is placed in the natal chart is a highly significant one. For example, if your Dragon's Head is placed in the 22nd degree of Aries, the 22nd degree of each of the other zodiacal signs is called the nodal degree. The South Node of course is placed in the opposing degree, but this nodal degree is also considered a very sensitive point in each of the signs, so whenever the nodal degree is activated by progression or transit, significant karmic events may be expected. Moreover, should any natal planet be placed in a nodal degree, its influence is also strengthened for good or ill, depending on its character and condition.
The Nodal Return
The Moon's nodes move back by transit to their birth position once every 18.6 years or so, when the transiting nodes form a conjunction with the natal nodes. This means that in our 19th year, we have what astrologers call a Nodal Return. In our 38th year we have another one; in our 56th, another and so on. Significant moments of destiny are marked by these returns, which if we look at these years of our lives, we can clearly see.
It is also notable that, because the nodes are an axis, halving this period gives the Nodal Opposition, the Counter-Nodal Return, when the transiting North Node is in conjunction with the natal South Node and vice versa. So in our 10th year, 28th year, 47th year, 66th year and so on a collision occurs in which the growth patterns indicated by the North Node clash with the established regimes of the South Node, often generating intense insecurities that lead to major transformations of the life-path. This is particularly so in the 28th year, during which the powerful energies of the progressed Lunar Return and the first Saturn Return mark the stressful transition from the Phase of Youth to the Phase of Maturity.
The best way to understand the astrological nature of the Nodes might be to envisage them as bubbling pools of karmic energy. These have a massive potency, which is associated with powerful events and feelings whenever they are activated by progressions or transits. Because the nodes are pools of karma associated primarily with the house in which they are located, the related effects are deep and often seem almost inevitable. It is not for nothing that they are called the Dragon's Head and Tail...
Here endeth the lesson.
NOTE: The Moon's Nodes changed sign from Capricorn/Cancer to Sagittarius/Gemini during February/March 2011, beginning a new 18 month phase.