Dragon crossing lunar crescent against starry backdrop

Traditionally the lunar nodes, aka Dragon’s Head and Tail, are perceived as the indicators of forces behind the unfoldment of personal fate and destiny. Their mysterious nature and relationship with eclipses was known since ancient times yet astrologers repeatedly changed their attitudes toward the nodes’ significance and interpretation.

Modern astrology is marked by acceptance of many kinds of theories and luckily treats the lunar nodes with all due respect. In many cases the nodes open a new dimension in natal chart readings providing significant clues to personal timeline and reasons behind prevalent patterns of emotions and actions.

The North Node and the South Node of the Moon are known to deal with the notion of individual’s past and future, they often act as significators of both challenges and opportunities that each human faces during their lifetime.

Before one can find an answer to the question “what does my future hold for me?”, one needs to look back in time — all things of the future have their roots in the past. That is why we should begin this story by looking at the past of the nodes themselves…

United States flag with the Moon South Node

Extra case study: The 4th of July, 2019 — judgement of Saturn on the South Node

Saturn on the South Node is a potent symbol of a ticking clock reaching a milestone, learn more about what’s so special about this Independence Day.

The ancient times of Babylon and the discovery of the “saros” period

It is likely that the ancient Babylonians have discovered the existence of the lunar nodes by keeping track of solar and lunar eclipses, the observations perhaps spanning centuries of careful record keeping.

The kingdom of Babylon existed a long time ago — around 18th to 6th centuries BC, or mind boggling 2,600 to 20,000 years ago from now — and was known throughout the ancient world for its rich culture and science.

Babylonian astrologers recognised the repeating nature of solar eclipseseclipses of similar strength and geometry tended to happen at regular intervals. Measured in lunar months such an interval turned out to be exactly 223 synodic months. This unit of time became known as “saros”.

TIP: Synodic month is a time interval between two identical Moon phases, for example from one New Moon to another.

What’s more, the Babylonians discovered that lunar eclipses of similar strength followed solar eclipses at exactly half saros mark. If saros is 18 lunar years 11 days 8 hours then half of that period is called “sar” and is equal to 9 lunar years and 5.5 days.

The saros period between two consecutive eclipses of similar strength and geometry

The word “saros” originates from the Greek σάρος that was itself borrowed from the Babylonian word “sāru” that meant both the number 3,600 and a measure of time. In Greek “saros” is said to mean “to repeat”.

What are the Moon’s nodes

The discovery of cyclical nature of eclipses — both solar and lunar — has led astronomers to a realisation that the Moon itself follows a certain periodic pattern of movement. And since every cycle has at least two defining points, an idea of special moments in time has emerged:

  • a solar eclipse occurs when the Moon is in front of the Sun
  • a lunar eclipse… is actually trickier…

… that blood-red Moon seemed to be obscured by something yet the ancients didn’t know that it was the Earth itself.

Hyper jumping to the current time equipped with precise astronomical knowledge, we now know what the nodes are. The nodes are the two points where the Moon orbit intersects with the plane of the Earth orbit around the Sun.

The lunar nodes are the points of intersection between the Earth and the Moon orbits

What’s more, every pair of orbiting cosmic bodies has such two nodal points. Orbital nodes is a universal principle describing two intersecting elliptical orbits. One node is called ascending (where the planet raises above the other’s orbital plane), another is called descending (where the planet dives beneath the other’s orbital plane).

The lunar nodes with pictorams on the points of intersection between the Earth and the Moon orbits

The lunar nodes is the Moon’s equivalent of solar equinoxes, see our earlier story “Equinoxes, Solstices and the idea of universal consciousness”

The table below expresses saros and nodal periods (two types) in solar years and days:

Period Solar years Days
Saros 18.03 years 6,585.3211 days
Nodes draconic 18.612958 years 6,798.383 days
Nodes sidereal 18.599525 years  

If during its New Moon or Full Moon phase, the Moon happens to be travelling in the vicinity of one of its orbital nodes it is also aligned with the Earth-Sun plane and thus either:

  • obscures the Sun producing solar eclipse
  • is obscured by the Earth producing lunar eclipse

Solar eclipses only happen during the New Moon and lunar eclipses only happen during the Full Moon. This may give some associations:

  • New Moon’s solar eclipse is a “super emptiness of spirit”
  • Full Moon’s lunar eclipse is an “obstruction of life’s flow”

Luckily enough not every passage of the Moon through the nodes results in an eclipse!

Every good story needs a dragon

Indian astronomy gave us a striking symbol for the up-down movement of the Moon’s orbit — the dragon.

Apparently, Hindu or Vedic astrology treats the nodes rather seriously and places them among the nine major planets. The ascending node is called Rahu and the descending node is called Ketu.

The lunar nodes as dragon’s head and tail

The Rahu-Ketu movement resembles a huge celestial serpent that moves in a wavy up and down manner and periodically swallows the Sun or the Moon. The ascending node is held responsible for swallowing the Sun while the descending node is held responsible for lunar eclipses. In its entirety the Rahuketu serpent is responsible for influencing the lives of the humans.

Arab, Greek and eventually Western astrology adopted the image of the serpent-dragon and the nodes became also known as the Dragon’s Head and the Dragon’s Tail.

Medieval knight slaying a dragon

Unfortunately, the Western church found it more politically beneficial to equate the dragon with the forces of evil — libido and sexuality, the emanations of dragon’s vital energy, were considered “bad” by the puritanic mindset. Thus “slaying the dragon” became the only way to interact with the force.

Chinese dragon installation

This dogmatic indoctrination resulted in endless superstitions and didn’t serve justice to the cosmic principle of dragon — the force of life and rejuvenation. Luckily enough, Chinese and other Asian cultures treat the dragon with all due respect and reverence.

Pre-modern Western astrology

Traditionally the nodes didn’t receive a proper treatment by earlier Western astrologers. A common attitude was to classify the descending South Node as malefic and the ascending North Node as beneficial.

The North Node was said to diminish negative effects of planet it’s conjunct with. Its 180º reflection, the South Node, was said to be of an exact opposite nature, it increased “malefic” effects of that planet.

Quite surprisingly, the nodes weren’t respected in the natal charts interpretations, unless the Moon was conjunct to one of them. Aspects to the nodes weren’t taken into account either, only conjunctions did matter.

The Head of the Dragon was considered to be masculine and of nature of Jupiter and sometimes Jupiter–Venus.

The Tail of the Dragon was considered to be… evil [sic] and of nature of Saturn or Saturn–Mars.

Using this overly simplified if not dismissive approach, one could still utilise the knowledge of the nodes in astrological interpretations and derive some additional insights from natal charts.

La forza del destino
“The Force of Destiny” or “La forza del destino”, an opera by Giuseppe Verdi. This famous Italian opera portrays a dramatic nature of unresolved internal conflicts and karmic attractions: certain things just aren’t destined to happen despite abundant passion and best efforts.

The opera has earned a reputation of being “cursed” as a number of incidents have happened during its performance possibly due to the intensity of pure bad luck that this piece of art presents so well.

Improving astrological meaning of the lunar nodes

The movement of the great celestial serpent represents unfoldment of life with its highs, lows and moments of equilibrium imbued with special meaning.

The nodes is another way to look at the highly changeable Moon, they rule over the overall progress of one’s life as opposed to lunar phases that influence monthly cycles of vital energies, emotions and moods.

The lunar nodes as dragon’s head and tail pointing between past and future

When Sanskrit texts were first translated in English, the translators made an insightful mistake: they assumed that Rahu (Dragon’s Head) was Uranus and Ketu (Dragon’s Tail) was Neptune.

This idea actually makes some sense from the standpoint of qualities of the nodes. A better way is to perceive the both nodes as a Uranus-Neptune duality in which the nodes borrow each other’s energies:

The north node is forward looking and advancing, brings originality, inspiration rooted in independence. Its downside can be potential confusion, illusion and neurotic addiction.

The south node is the roots, the doorway to one’s spiritual evolution and the force of compassion. Being related to past deeds and karma, the south node can express itself via eccentric behaviour and violence with potential amorality and impulsiveness.

Using this approach, the Dragon’s Head is more like Uranus–Neptune while the Dragon’s Tail is more like Neptune–Uranus. After all they are the two parts of one serpent!

A simpler approach

What most astrologers currently agree is that:

  • the North Node represents destiny and future development
  • the South Node stands for past actions and karma

From this standpoint, it does make sense to see the North Node as a Jupiterian force of expansion and benevolence, while the South Node is a Saturnian principle of limits and karma leading to inevitable contraction until the debts have been repaid.

Understanding the nodes and eclipses

What makes the nodes so special is their relationship to eclipses. Every time the Moon finds itself in the vicinity of the nodes there is a probability of an eclipse, either solar or lunar.

Eclipses can only happen during either solar-lunar conjunction (the New Moon) or solar-lunar opposition (the Full Moon) when the connection between the Sun, the Moon and the Earth is interrupted.

Thus eclipses always carry a potential for disturbance of the flow of life that is the Moon‘s domain of influence, or the creative flow expressed by the Sun’s energy. Not all eclipses are necessary “bad” and cause calamities. Most eclipses are quite harmless but some rare ones are powerful enough to introduce breaking points of a certain kind, depending on configuration of other significant planets.

Keeping this in mind helps to see the lunar nodes as powerful points that are mostly “asleep” but when awake bring about changes and breakages. Just like in the symbolism of resting dragon: a powerful sleeping force that unleashes volleys of fire when awaken.

The lunar nodes in natal charts

When interpreting natal charts, it is always beneficial to analyse the line of the nodes as a “past–future” vector relating to the notions of fate and destiny.

Planets or points that are conjunct with the south node often mean the past — past patterns or past incarnations during which the person may have been:

  • doing something, either good or bad
  • not doing, observing or indulging

Action or inaction, good or bad, truth or falsehood… all equally create karmic imprints that can work either for or against the person.

The South Node, or Dragon’s Tail, symbolises the past from which the individual has emerged. The person’s “tail” is likely to come with some kind of “historical luggage”.

Let’s look at examples when a certain planet is conjunct to the South Node…

Planet on the South Node

Any planet conjunct to the South Node signifies intense interaction of the individual with forces and principles of the planet that happened during past lives.

The interaction may have been blissful, productive or traumatic. But what is clear is that its nature was marked by intensity and left a lasting imprint in the person’s psyche.

For example, having Neptune on the South Node may mean that in the past the person have been:

  1. Excessively indulging in alcohol and other substance abuse
  2. Living idealistic life detached from reality
  3. Have been doing lots of spiritual work as a monk or a meditator

Another example could be Mars on the South Node:

  1. Warrior past lives that may have attracted traumatic or violent incidents
  2. Past lives in competitive environments, living on the edge

Either way, each planet can unfold its influence in either enabling or disabling manner. That’s the principle of karma in a nutshell.

Astrological natal chart with the Sun conjunct to the South Node
The Sun conjunct to the South Node is a powerful position indicating past lives where the native was in a position of leadership perhaps being the “source of light” for many others. On the other hand their Sun may have manifested itself in a dictatorial and arrogant manner. A planet on the South Node shouldn’t be taken at face value, it is always an invitation for a deeper research.

It is worth mentioning that the South Node also stands for occult powers and forces of the Underworld. The tail of the dragon has a Pluto connection — being in touch with Pluto energies ensures a better understanding of the dragon’s nature.

Other influences of the South Node

Another way to interpret the South Node is to look at “where the person is coming from”. The three factors that influence that:

  1. the South Node on an angle, usually ascendant or midheaven
  2. the South Node in a house
  3. the South Node in a Zodiac sign

In each of those cases carefully analyse what could the past mean. For example, the Dragon’s Tail on the ascendant or in the first house may signify an intense personality that have been formed during past lives:

  1. Stuck in old patterns, unable to let go and move forward without facing them first
  2. Power of “I am” that supports and propels into the future

As with pretty much everything in astrology, the meaning can vary and will depend on many other factors. A good approach is to choose a certain direction for further exploration, for example, exploring your relationship with power, the notion of me versus them, the degree of idealism versus practicality, etc.

The North Node and the future arrow

As much as the Dragon’s Tail is a deeply unconscious principle standing for what we have brought with us without fully realising or understanding, the Dragon’s Head is consciously looking into the future towards the opportunities it may bring.

The head as the seat of consciousness is responsible for making choices. The North Node arrow points at the areas in which our conscious focused cultivation may bring fruitful results that will eventually become the supporting Dragon’s Tail.

In a natal chart the North Node may be:

  • conjunct to one or more planets
  • conjunct to an angle like ascendant, midheaven, descendant or imum coeli
  • positioned in a house
  • positioned in a Zodiac sign

Aspects to the nodes

Since the nodes are always in a perfect 180º opposition, there are two strong configurations when a planet is:

  • square to both nodes
  • trine to one node and sextile to the opposite node

The case of square signifies that the planetary force is actively influencing the person’s timeline during this incarnation. It is important to be in touch with that planetary force and learn how to use the better side of its energy in one’s actions. Remember that “action” is the keyword for getting the most out of a square aspect.

Astrological natal chart with Venus square to the lunar nodes
Venus square to the lunar nodes can be understood as an invitation for the native to use venusian values of creativity and perhaps even artistic pursuit in their life. The native will only benefit by avoiding competitive agenda of excessively materialistic world. Venus offers harmony, cooperation and unity as natural ways to fulfil one’s destiny.
Imum Coeli square the nodes hints that the harmonising action of Venus is also required at the deepest level of the person’s psyche, the place of roots and family needs to be carefully explored and prepared to receive much needed love and care.

A trine–sextile configuration stands for benevolent help from the planet involved. Both aspects are harmonious and go well with the North Node symbolism and its nature of Jupiter. Using that planet’s energies in a creative and enthusiastic manner may take one further than expected.

Astrological natal chart with Mars both trine and sextile to the lunar nodes
Mars both trine and sextile to the lunar nodes suggests that the dynamic quality of the trine will greatly benefit from Mars ability to take action and never shy away from challenges. This life is not the one for relaxation, it is the time for positive endeavours with meaningful direction. Mars likes opportunities that bring out its bold and expressive nature.

Unleashing the magic of the dragon

When well understood, the lunar nodes provide some extremely powerful hints that help us to navigate this complex environment called “my life on planet Earth”.

To briefly summarise the meaning of the nodes of the Moon in the context of fate and destiny:

  • unconscious vs conscious
  • choices already made vs actions to strive for
  • past that either supports or obstructs the future
  • the meaning of personal unfoldment and life

The image of the dragon, especially as it is perceived in Asian cultures, brings the sense of vitality, magic and force that rules over each individual incarnation on this planet.

It could be a wiser approach to embrace the dragon instead of trying to slay it. Understanding the past–future arrow as a sum total of both subconscious and conscious choices gives a plenty of room for hope, light and enthusiasm moving forward shaping one’s destiny while consciously owning one’s fate.