Wrestling the Dragon: The Meaning and Purpose of the Lunar Nodes

The other day, while attempting to explain the point of Lunar Nodes to a client, I thought to myself, “Wait! This is why I have a blog!”

If you click on this visual aid, you will see a quick, cogent and relatively simple explanation about the nodes.

If you click on this visual aid, you will see a quick, cogent and relatively simple explanation about the nodes.

As with anything to do with astrology, a theory is only useful if it works for you, but the theory behind how the Nodes function in the chart is based on thousands of years of history, observation, and study.

Nonetheless, that the Nodes have become associated with one’s spiritual purpose is a notion that, for me, needs some explanation.

Something as potentially profound as the belief that the Lunar Nodes ‘represent’ our soul’s path requires that we trace through history to find out where these ideas come from, and how we came to associate the Lunar Nodes with … a dragon. Why a dragon, you might wonder? Let’s find out.

What Are The Nodes, Precisely?

The Nodes, of course, are not a planet, nor are they a physical object orbiting in the heavens. Instead, they are a point where the Sun and Moon’s orbital paths around the Earth intersect. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that the Moon does not move reliably in a linear path around the Earth, so your natal Nodal position will always be averaged; it’s approximate, rather than specific, since the Moon’s transit is erratic.

Astrowiki says this about the variable point of intersection:

These points of intersection occur because the plane of the moon’s orbital path is inclined to the sun’s (in reality the earth’s) orbit at an angle of 5 degrees and 9 minutes.

The point at which the moon crosses the plane of the ecliptic when moving in a northerly direction is called ascending moon’s node or north node. Two weeks later the moon intersects the ecliptic plane going in a southerly direction and this point of intersection is called the moon’s south node.

The series of moon’s nodes move in a clockwise (i.e. retrograde) direction around the zodiac and take 18 years, 7 months and 9 days to make one complete revolution. Eclipses occur when either the new or full moon occurs close to the nodal axis.lunar-nodes-11

Let’s pause for a moment to digest this, because right there, this moment in time (when you’re born) is already significant, and now we’re adding a layer of information to where your Sun and your Moon reside in your chart; we’re saying that not only do they exist in a sign, and a house, but that they also have a profound and meaningful relationship to one another in space and time that is separate from their existence as celestial objects forming an angle in your chart.

They form an energetic relationship as well, expressed, at the most basic level, as intersecting one another’s paths of cosmic influence during their orbits (forming one of the “invisible” yet profound axes of your chart, including, for example, the angles—Ascendent/Descendent; Imum Coeli/Medium Coeli, not to mention the axes formed by the cusps of each house, to overcomplicate this paragraph beyond its capacity).

The nature of these “hidden” points in the astrological chart is important once you layer on spiritualism and metaphysics, with all the esoteric possibility to be found in your chart, let alone your life.

I’ll come back to the metaphor of the nature of the celestial path as it applies in your chart, but for now, it’s clear that since the Sun and Moon affect each other’s path in the heavens, that fact is reflected in your natal chart. But what does it all mean?

Where Does The Idea of a Lunar Node Come From?

Theories of the origin of the Lunar Nodes are as old as astrology itself. The metaphor of the dragon’s head and tail that make up the oppositional nature of the nodes, with the North Node represented by a dragon’s head, the South represented by its tail, might very well be as old as the Mesopotamians.

The violent motif of wrestling, slaying, and vanquishing, dragons (or serpents, depending on who’s telling the story) is part of the ancient myth of Ti’amat, an angry goddess we encountered in an earlier segment of my ongoing history of astrology.

You might not recall (since you probably haven’t read that particular post; now’s your chance to catch up) but Ti’amat begat (incestuously, since this soap opera is what the Babylonians entertained themselves with prior to television) a frightening passel of dragon-serpents with which the war in Heaven was fought.

Then she turns into a serpent or dragon, and her consort, the sun-god Marduk, fights her and slices her in half. One half is transformed into day, one into night, the dragon-being is vanquished, and peace reigns in Babylonian Heaven once more.

This creation myth, telling us how important it is to vanquish an otherwise insurmountable force in order to create order out of what appears to be chaos, is incredibly powerful and enduring. This myth has been told and retold, in different languages and by different cultures, through the centuries.

Marduk slays Ti'amat, who has taken the shape of a serpent

Marduk slays Ti’amat, who has taken the shape of a serpent

The Ti’amat myth also represents something known as ‘Chaoskampf,’ which pits a Hero against a chthonic monster, usually one associated with water (Jungians and Freudians will recognize water motifs represent the subconscious). Psychologically, the need to retell and relive this myth reveals much about ourselves and our inner need to wrestle our own demons, perhaps as the Hero of our own story.

The Tiamat myth is one of the earliest recorded versions of the Chaoskampf, the battle between a cultur(al) hero and a chthonic or aquatic monster, serpent or dragon.

(Thorkild Jacobsen in “The Battle between Marduk and Tiamat,” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 88.1 (January–March 1968), pp 104–8.)

As with any myth, cultural interpretation is key to its meaning, but serpents and/or dragons appear in many Proto-Indo-European fables, and we’ve inherited these mythic metaphors over time through myths and stories spread throughout the world.

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If this creature, chased by an Assyrian warrior, resembles a basilisk, that’s not surprising, although in fact it’s a very early representation of a dragon. More recently, Harry Potter fought a basilisk, an ancient mythological serpent familiar to Medieval alchemists and modern astrologers alike.

 

Persian Al-Sufi's book of the Fixed Stars, dated 1009-10 AD, was an attempt to translate Ptolemy into Arabic. 'Draco,' the dragon, is also described as a sea-serpent, and inspired not only the idea of the Lunar Nodes, but also constellations in more than one culture's star system.

Persian Al-Sufi’s book of the Fixed Stars, dated 1009-10 AD, was an attempt to translate Ptolemy into Arabic. ‘Draco,’ the dragon, is also described as a sea-serpent, and inspired not only the idea of the Lunar Nodes, but also constellations in more than one culture’s star system.

It’s not coincidental that most Proto-Indo-European cultures thought of dragons and serpents as monsters that must be slain, since the seminal Babylonian myth of Marduk slaying Ti’amat spread, over time, to most of what has become the Western world.

This violent theme continues to be seen in familiar representations of dragons and serpents, such as St. George slaying the dragon, an extremely popular image throughout Christendom during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Yet it is also found in cultures we don’t necessarily associate with dragons, such as Persia (modern day Iran).

Described as a "frightful apparition," a Medieval Persian story involves a brave warrior fighting off a dragon so as to protect himself and his companions.

Described as a “frightful apparition,” a Persian story from 1560 involves a brave warrior fighting off a dragon so as to protect himself and his companions.

It’s no surprise that the dragon motif made its way into our astrological lore. What changes over millennia, however, has more to do with what the animal in question represents.

Each culture will imbue a totemic animal with meaning; the question is, what is the meaning, and does it resonate for us today, or are we relying on a symbol we don’t really understand, simply because we’ve inherited it from earlier cultures, for whom it represented a more visceral reality?

How did dragons become associated with the Lunar Nodes?

Scientific (or Hellenic) astrology, as a systematic body of knowledge, originated in Egypt in roughly the 2nd century BC. From Egypt, it moved into mainstream Greek and Latin philosophies. Through its adoption by Greek thinkers, it became part of Aristotelian natural sciences. Astrology was subsequently absorbed into the three cultures of the medieval world: the Byzantine Empire, the Islamic Caliphates, and the Latin west. The astrological sciences of the Arabic-speaking world were ultimately the most influential.

At the same time, fears and perceptions underlying creation myths were passed from the Mesopotamians, Chaldeans, and on to Hellenistic astrologers. Important for Western astrology as we practice it today, first Hipparchus, then Ptolemy became known for their work with eclipses. It is through the astronomical event of the eclipse that we come to the earliest attempt to interpret the meaning of the Lunar Nodes.

The sign for the length of the node is a distorted dragon, according to one source. The idea of the dragon's head and tail remained long after the dragon itself disappeared.

The sign for the length of the node is a distorted dragon, according to one source. The idea of the dragon’s head and tail remained long after the dragon itself disappeared.

Key to understanding the psychological impression on humans of the path of the Moon during an eclipse is to imagine this event the way the ancients did. Instead of filtering the event through modern-day science, they observed two specific things happening in the heavens.

While the Moon’s movement cut the ecliptic into two opposite points (a familiar and meaningful event for those who knew of, however indirectly, the Marduk-Ti’amat story), the most dramatic and psychologically significant moment happened for the ancient observer when a dark body came between the Sun and the Moon, blocking the light of the Moon. The Moon disappeared!

It was once thought that this threatening dark body was a dragon, which ended at two opposite points on either side of the Moon. They believed they couldn’t see the Moon because either the dragon’s head or tail had come between the Earth and the Moon (The Encyclopedia of Islam, H. A. R. Gibb, 1982, p. 536).

The Medieval astrologer associated with the Lunar Nodes was Persian al-Biruni (who wrote in Arabic as well as Persian; in fact, the book in which he expounded his theories on astrology still exists—click here).

Or, take a look on Renaissance Astrology’s site for a link to a version of al-Biruni’s ‘Tafhim’ (or “Book of Instruction in the Elements of the Arts of Astrology”) in English. According to Professor Gibb, al-Biruni discusses the ‘separate natures’ of the North and South nodes; the head is “hot, auspicious, and indicates increase (of property, etc.). The tail is cold, brings misfortune, and indicates diminution (of wealth, etc.).”

Now astrologers of al-Biruni’s time have the beginnings of interpretation of the Nodes in the natal chart. They have an understanding of the Nodes as being of importance, but primarily through their traditional association with what was thought to be a dramatic and difficult time in the heavens, when the Moon was eaten by a dragon. And so myth begat early attempts at interpretation.

Thanks to al-Biruni, whose book of astrological instruction was written in 1027 AD, the Nodes are formally assigned a meaning, albeit a dichotomized one: that of being good or bad, depending on which Node we’re talking about. This practice of dichotomizing the Nodes, and assigning good or bad status to their functions, of course, permeates astrological interpretation even today, although I notice there are astrologers searching for a more inclusive, less polarized trope by which to explain any potential effects of the Nodes.

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Rahu and Ketu, the Vedic names for the North and South Nodes, in their traditional form of a dragon.

How Might We Interpret Culturally-Based Beliefs About the Symbology of the Lunar Nodes?

With the rise of scientism, astrology’s dominance waned In the West. The dragon, to all intents and purposes, flew off into the starry night, leaving behind only the dim memory of its existence in the metaphor of its head and tail. Irrationally, Western astrologers couldn’t believe that a “mere mathematical point” could have any effect on the individual, in spite of taking the Midheaven and Ascendent seriously, and so the Lunar Nodes diminished in importance.

In the East, thanks to al-Biruni, the dichotomous ‘good/bad’ duality became associated with the idea of the Nodes; the North Node became associated with all that was good, the South with everything bad. 

In your myth, you're a hero, just like Sigurd, fighting off your personal dragon. How would you describe the dragon you fight? We all have one.

In your myth, you’re a hero, just like Sigurd, fighting off your personal dragon. How would you describe the dragon you fight? We all have one.

However, during what was to become astrology’s renaissance in the West, George White, in his 1927 book Moon’s Nodes and Their Importance in Natal Astrology, tells us the ancients were wise to believe in the Celestial dragon that “stretched across the heavens,” because the “overshadowing effect” it had on the affairs of mortals made it a “disturber of things.”

From White we learn that nothing very specific about the “natures” of the Nodes had been handed down in the West, but that “the Hindoo treat[ed] them as the most potent influence in the affairs of men.”

Notably, in my opinion, White also carries on the Persian-Arabic tradition of dichotomizing the nature of the Nodes; they are either all-bad or all-good. White, much like the “Hindoo,” sees the Nodes as influential to the point of making or breaking one’s chances in life. White believes the progressed Node to be most powerful of all, interestingly; the progressed North Node hitting your natal Midheaven, in fact, might bring you a life-changing opportunity previously denied to you. At all times, for White’s interpretations, the Nodes must be in aspect to an angle or make a strong aspect with a planet.

According to White,

the native whose Ascendent is favored by the Nodes has a great advantage. Those afflicted by them stand at a great disadvantage through life.

When it comes to interpretation of the Nodes, the most potent source for additional layers of meaning were to be found in India, where, due to the upsetting nature of watching an eclipse (again, imagining, with the mind of someone alive on the planet a long time ago, that either the Moon is in shadow or the Sun has a big black spot on it), both of the Nodes became associated with malefics Mars and Saturn.

Now, as soon as you mention India, of course, you get into this huge (and hugely applicable, when it comes to the Nodes, which rely on the location of the ecliptic for their accuracy) discussion about the supremacy of the Tropical zodiac over the Sidereal. Obviously, what with the precession of the equinoxes and all, you have to use the Vedic system if you want truly accurate placements.

The whole of India was, at one time, "girt with Drakones," apparently. Dragon-serpents were constantly being killed by huntsman.

The whole of India was, at one time, “girt with Drakones,” apparently, according to Philostratus, 2nd century AD. Dragons threatened not only humans, but also ate elephants.

However, if absolute numerical and mathematical accuracy does not bother you, then the Tropical system will work just fine, since we perversely (I include myself in this assessment) don’t seem to worry too much, here in the West, where our planets actually reside.

Looking at the miracle of synchronous timing the crossing of the Moon and Sun’s paths must have appeared to the ancients, and combining that fact with the fear-factor of believing a threatening dragon slithered its way across the sky, essentially eating the Moon, it isn’t difficult to imagine why the Nodes became, over time, so meaningful in the individual’s natal chart, and so potentially dangerous.

This was particularly true in India, where religious beliefs were interwoven with the kind of metaphysics that the system of astrology could easily absorb and be integrated with. Through the influence of Hindu belief in karma, the Lunar Nodes became associated with one’s path in life, (whether that path is lived in a spiritual manner or not).

Interpretations based on karmic astrology transformed the powerful Nodal axis into one’s past and future incarnations, as well as all that we carry with us from prior incarnations (the South Node), and all that we should be aspiring to become (North Node). We’re using the Nodes to explain our entire life’s purpose; a bit of a heavy responsibility for one point in the chart, but understandable, given the epic struggle with the Dragon we’ve seen.

Nowadays, instead of struggling against a great dragon in the sky, we struggle against our inner ‘dragon,’ in the form of our personal, emotional, and psychological limitations, as expressed through our Lunar Node position.

Nowadays, the Nodes are, to a certain extent, at risk for becoming a kind of catch-all location for all that we ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ be doing with our lives. I think it’s important, however, that we not over-identify with the binarized values and judgements we’ve inherited from previous generations, the same ones that allow us to point fingers of blame at ourselves and others before even considering that there might be another way to handle our very human problems.

For Jung, the archetypes at work in this picture have real purpose and resonance in the individual's life. The Hero's Journey (yes, you) includes fighting a dragon, which has been conveniently provided to you by the heavens via the Nodal axis. There's a treasure that's hard to attain waiting for you at the end of your struggle against this dragon; I think this sums up the North/South nodal challenges rather neatly.

For Jung, the archetypes at work in this picture have real purpose and resonance in the individual’s life. The Hero’s Journey (yes, you) includes fighting a dragon, which has been conveniently provided to you by the heavens via the Nodal axis. There’s a treasure that’s hard to attain waiting for you at the end of your struggle against this dragon; I think this sums up the North/South nodal challenges rather neatly.

 

I’d rather use the Nodes as a way to understand one’s psyche; if you take seriously the idea of the Hero fighting his or her dragon, and you apply the Nodes to that concept, I think it’s possible to use the Nodal axis as a psychological tool. In particular, the idea that when the Sun and Moon, on their unique (if wobbly and unpredictable) path, intersect one another, bringing together the union of opposite forces—masculine and feminine energies—represents a challenge to our individuation that the struggle enacted between Ti’amat and Marduk might illuminate.

When dealing with the Nodes, ask yourself “How do I handle the darkness in my own psyche? How do I incorporate the eternal ‘opposites’ of masculine and feminine duality?” In my experience, these do not have to be thought of as irreconcilably different. The struggle we are all in the process of learning is how to ignore ideas of bifurcation we were taught so early in life we think of them as ‘natural,’ when they are nothing more than an old thought we can discard at will.

Hopefully, this removes the karmic burden of ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’ from your shoulders, at the same time it has the potential to foreground your reality—how you envision your life, your worldview, and how you plan to change your life. In my opinion, as an astrologer, I’d much rather help someone find their own path through the chart, rather than have that predetermined for them.

Finally, if you want to try to construct your own astrological chart based on the Nodes, the Draconic chart, while having a lot of mythic-fairy-dust sprinkled over it, exists to challenge the meaning of the traditional Nodal axis as well as the natal chart itself. Explanations of how to begin exist in many places, but here are a few to try. By the way, if you find any evidence that Draconic astrology is, in fact, older than the Babylonians, I hope you will let me know. I cannot imagine it’s true, but stranger things have happened.

Noel Tyl’s student, Lauren Delsack

Solstice Point 

Kim Falconer

White Eagle Astrology

Linda Goodman’s forum discussion 

Next time, I will tell you the South-Node-related story that led me to write this blog post in the first place. Not only was this blog post a challenge to write (from beginning to end, I learned so much while I was writing it, mostly about the connection between the metaphor of the dragon and the Nodes’ psychological impact) it was also inspired by a challenge to my Aries-south-node ego. Every word I write that isn’t specifically about me stretches my ability to get off my ego and focus on others (North Node in Libra).