The Lunar Nodes: Desire and Transcendence

Although traditional Vedic astrology does not employ the outer planets, it does afford planetary status to the north and south lunar nodes. The nodes, which are the two points where the Moon’s path intersects the ecliptic, and therefore where solar and lunar eclipses occur, are considered in Vedic astrology to be strongly influential — after all, they are capable of temporarily obscuring the light of the Sun and the Moon!


As with much of Vedic astrology, close examination of the mythology relating to the nodes can be very instructive, and can help the student of Vedic astrology more deeply understand the true nature and behavior of the nodes. The essential story concerning the Lunar nodes comes from the Puranas, an ancient collection of Vedic myths and narratives which are concerned (in part) with universal cosmology. Briefly, the story of the lunar nodes serves to illustrate aspects of their nature and meaning as applied to human life, and just as importantly, to define their differences from each other. In this myth, Lord Vishnu presides over a gathering of both gods and demons during which the oceans are churned and, as the result of the churning, Amrit (nectar) is produced. The Amrit has the power to confer immortality, and Lord Vishnu naturally takes pains to ensure that only gods, or devas, are given this nectar. However, as the story goes, a demon named Swarbhanu manages to outsmart Lord Vishnu by disguising himself, infiltrating the ranks of the devas, and imbibing the Amrit for himself. At that moment, however, Swarbhanu’s identity is detected by the Sun and Moon, who alert Lord Vishnu and ask that he kill Swarbhanu. Lord Vishnu cuts off the head of Swarbhanu, but having already imbibed the Amrit, Swarbhanu, now two entities instead of one, has become immortal. Swarbhanu’s head is then attached to the tail of a serpent and his lower half attached to the head of a serpent. The head, now known as Rahu, is said to represent the Moon’s north or ascending node, and the tail, now known as Ketu, signifies the south or descending node. Readers may also notice a significant parallel between the myth concerning Rahu and Ketu and the story of Adam and Eve. In both cases a serpent, representing the theme of a “fall,” and the notion of humanity being afflicted by desire, is present. Rahu and Ketu share certain important attributes. As an uninvited guest, an outsider, who crashed the party and managed to deceive the host, the Rahu/Ketu entity is seen as a foreign, alien influence, possessed of cleverness and capable of being devious. Rahu and Ketu represent that which is disguised, elusive, unconventional, and not easily discernible. Because Vedic astrology does not assign house rulership to Rahu or Ketu, the nodes are regarded as “shadow planets,” and are especially susceptible to external influences, including their house placement and the planets that rule them (their dispositors). Rahu or Ketu placed in the Ascendant, for example, might represent an idiosyncratic personality or someone with an unusual physical presentation, but can also indicate potential difficulty in obtaining clear medical diagnoses, along with the likelihood that alternative medical strategies would be more successful than conventional ones. So, what features distinguish Rahu and Ketu from each other? With the myth in mind, we note that Rahu is the head of the serpent and Ketu the tail. As the head, Rahu possesses a brain and sense organs, and a mouth, so Rahu operates chiefly in the realm of the senses. As a head without a real body, however — despite his ability to feel desire and to consume any object of that desire — Rahu lacks the ability to digest or feel satisfied by what he has ingested. His is a pure, self-perpetuating form of desire that is expressed through the senses, externally focused, and located primarily in the material world. In any given chart, Rahu may represent themes of compulsion and obsession. If afflicted and/or poorly placed, Rahu can signify greed, insatiability, egotism, and extreme materialism. In such placements, Rahu may be capable of exaggeration, distortion, dishonesty, and manipulation, including criminal behavior. Rahu’s capacity for distortion can also create phobias, grandiosity, or distorted thinking when Rahu is conjunct either or both mental planets, the Moon and Mercury, or occupies the 5th house, which is associated with the mind, intelligence, and discernment. In addition, Rahu’s serpent symbolism should not be overlooked; it is said to rule poisons, as well as to have other archetypical associations with snakes and serpents, including transformation and the rise of kundalini energy in the body. 


Remember that Rahu is considered an alien and potentially insatiable influence. As an outsider, Rahu’s house placement may indicate an area of life where we feel ourselves to be in unfamiliar territory and incapable of experiencing true satisfaction. A critical placement of the Rahu/Ketu axis is often seen in charts of those with strongly addictive tendencies — whether the addiction is to substances like drugs or alcohol, or processes like sex, shopping, or gambling. In Vedic astrology, the 2nd house represents the voice, the mouth, and what is ingested. A 2nd-house Rahu, then, may be an indication of alcoholism, drug addiction, or an eating disorder, whereas a 7th-house Rahu, or Rahu in conjunction with Venus, can create compulsivity around sexuality and relationships. Of course, Rahu’s house placement and planetary influences are critical. As a natural malefic, Rahu is better placed in the houses known as improvement, or “upachaya,” houses — the 3rd, 6th, 10th, and 11th. Malefic planets placed in these houses are said to bring generally positive results, because they confer the determination and ambition to improve one’s life. A well placed, strongly disposited and/or positively influenced Rahu can bring great blessings to a chart. Rahu is forward-looking because he is the head, possessing eyes, a brain, and the capacity to be visionary. For these reasons, Rahu signifies the future, as well as futuristic technological occupations. When positively placed and influenced, Rahu’s status as unconventional can break both personal limits and the boundaries of social convention, and can bring great wealth or creativity. Influential Rahu placements have been seen in the charts of financial magnates, lottery winners, inventors, writers, artists, and musicians, as well as scientific and political visionaries. In the chart of British singer/songwriter Amy Winehouse, Rahu occupies the 1st house and is located within 3° of the Taurus Ascendant. The close proximity of Rahu to her Ascendant degree confers strong influence, positive and negative, to her Rahu, and it is fair to say that Winehouse’s life was dominated by Rahu-like themes. First, her appearance was consistent with traditional significations of Rahu: dark, unconventional, exotic, exaggerated, seductive, alluring, mysterious. Apart from her music, Winehouse was most famously known for her struggles with addiction to alcohol and drugs, an illness that took her life by overdose at age 27. Even without an extensive discussion of other contributing influences in the chart, it is clear that Rahu helped define the singer’s struggles by imparting an overwhelming desire nature, as well as the unquenchable thirst for which Rahu is known. The AA slogan, “One drink is too many, a thousand is not enough,” precisely applies to Rahu’s influence in the singer’s chart. As a “shadow planet” somewhat dependent upon outside influences and associations, Winehouse’s Rahu is not well supported. Both Rahu and her Ascendant degree are aspected by 8th-house (sudden breaks, transformations, and loss) ruler Jupiter, which occupies her 7th house in the sign of Scorpio. Rahu, placed in the 1st house, is disposited by Venus. Venus, the ruler of Taurus, is in the 3rd house, of personal ambition and artistic expression, which points to the drive and ambition to succeed. In the 3rd house, Venus is tightly conjunct debilitated Mars in Cancer, and is additionally afflicted by an aspect from Saturn. Additionally, Jupiter aspects Venus, and since Jupiter is the ruler of the 8th house, it becomes a functional malefic in this Taurus rising chart. So Venus, the dispositor of Rahu, is damaged, resulting in negative effects for Rahu. Notice, too, that all three planets occupy difficult positions related to the Moon — Mars and Venus are 8 houses away from the Moon and Jupiter is 12 houses away. As mentioned, Rahu is capable of great exaggeration and is generally materialistic. The chart of H. Ross Perot is an example of Rahu’s ability to create and amplify wealth. In Vedic astrology, houses 2 and 11 are associated with finance and financial gain, and houses 1, 5, and 9 are the houses of dharma, purpose, and general blessings in life. When these houses and their rulers are strong and well-placed, and particularly when the rulers associate with or aspect each other and their respective houses, wealth opportunities multiply. In Ross Perot’s chart, Venus, as lord of the 5th house of discernment, speculation, and investment, is placed in the 2nd house of liquid assets. Perot’s 11th house, the house of “easy money,” windfalls, gains, and advantages, is occupied by its ruler, Mars, in the sign of Aries. As ruler in its own house, Mars can be expected to perform very well, and that is, of course, the case with this Mars, which helped produce massive wealth for Perot. Mars, however, is joined in Perot’s 11th house by Rahu, which, in accordance with its shadow nature, mimics and exaggerates an already very sturdy and capable Mars. You may recall that malefic planets empower houses 3, 6, 10, and 11. Together, Mars and Rahu created opportunities for Perot to amass not millions but billions in his lifetime. And there is one other feature specific to Mars that added to Perot’s wealth. Mars aspects the 2nd house and Venus occupies the 2nd house. This empowers financial gains because Venus rules the 5th house of investments and speculation. The other half of the nodal axis, Ketu, is the south, or descending, lunar node. It always sits exactly 180 degrees opposite Rahu, and, as such, represents qualities considered to be the precise opposite of those of Rahu. First, recall that Ketu, as the lower half of the demon Swarbhanu, does not possess a brain, or sense organs, or a mouth. Perhaps the most significant distinction between the two is that while Rahu is dedicated to the pursuit of satisfaction through the senses, Ketu, alive and immortal, yet lacking a brain and sense organs, represents transcendence of the mind and senses. Ketu therefore signifies less rational processes, like intuition and instinct, and is far less likely to rely upon hard data and sensory input than Rahu. Where Rahu might be considered linear and horizontal (superficial), Ketu is decidedly nonlinear and vertical (capable of great depth). 


The descriptive term for Ketu in classic Vedic astrology is karaka, significator of “moksha.” Translated, the term “moksha” refers to spiritual liberation or enlightenment. In its highest sense, it is the soul’s ultimate achievement of freedom from the laws of karma and the cycle of birth and re-birth, the attainment of cosmic consciousness. Ketu’s placement in a chart points the soul in the direction of transcendence, toward what lessons are to be learned and which attachments are meant to be relaxed in this lifetime. A well-placed Ketu in a chart can be intuitive and highly perceptive, inclined to deep meditation as well as the highest levels of religious and spiritual sensitivity and devotion. An afflicted Ketu, however, can become critical and narrow-minded or dangerously irrational. This kind of Ketu often appears in charts of political or religious fanatics; remember that Ketu is, literally, a blind follower. The awareness of Ketu’s status as a headless tail is useful for predictive purposes in Vedic astrology. The onset of a Ketu period or sub-period (known as dasa and antaradasa, respectively) is often marked by sudden changes, as well as the sense that the native is compelled by, or caught up in, circumstances that may seem beyond his or her control. (1) Vedic astrologer, Vinay Aditya, has said that if Ketu had a symbol, it would be a pair of scissors, due to Ketu’s ability to bring about a separation from, or dissolution of, a previous set of life circumstances. Examples commonly seen with the onset of a Ketu dasa or antaradasa are career change and divorce. One of the extremes of which Ketu is capable can be seen in the chart of the late Christopher Reeve. In Reeve’s chart, Ketu assumes prominence by occupying Reeve’s 1st house, very close to the Ascendant degree. As a shadow planet that is especially vulnerable to external influence, the influences on Ketu contributed to Reeve’s intelligence and creative abilities, but also to his tragic accident and subsequent paralysis. In the sign of Cancer, Ketu is subject to the influence of its dispositor, the Moon, and this is where Reeve’s physical vulnerability can more clearly be seen. Although it occupies his 5th house, Reeve’s Moon is quite afflicted. It is debilitated in the sign of Scorpio, and is conjunct malefic Mars. More significantly, it receives an aspect from the highly malefic planet, Saturn. The collection of malefic influences on this Moon is also not redeemed by any benefic influence; neither Venus, Jupiter, or Mercury has any conjunction with or aspect to the Moon. In contrast to that of Christopher Reeve, the chart of Sri Ramana Maharshi is an example of Ketu’s ability to promote and confer the highest levels of spiritual attainment. In this chart, Ketu occupies the 10th house of career and essential and primary activities, and is in very close proximity, within 5°, of Ramana Maharshi’s Moon. The Moon and Ketu are disposited by 10th-house ruler, Mercury, which occupies the sign of Scorpio in Ramana Maharshi’s 3rd house. There, Mercury is stabilized by conjunction with natural and temporal benefic, Venus, who rules the 2nd house of speech and the 9th house of highest religious and spiritual “dharma,” or purpose. This Moon can be seen as somewhat the opposite of that of Christopher Reeve, whose Moon is debilitated and afflicted by Mars and Saturn. Ramana Maharshi’s Moon is full and escapes aspects from either Saturn or Mars, but does receive, along with Ketu, an important aspect from benefic Jupiter. Ramana Maharshi was a highly regarded and greatly loved Indian “rishi,” or sage, whose spiritual pursuit began at a young age and whose silence and religious, charismatic presence (known as “darshan,”) was said to be deep and profound. Notice that the Sun, which aspects this full Moon by opposition, is the ruler of Ramana Maharshi’s 12th house of spiritual retreat and enlightenment. In Vedic astrology, the Moon represents “manas,” or sense impressions, and Ketu strongly shades this Moon in the direction of “moksha,” or liberation, through transcendence of the mind and senses, lending Ramana Maharshi the strongest possible spiritual inclination, and the ability, as realized by him, to achieve liberation in this lifetime. No Vedic astrological chart assessment can be complete or considered comprehensive without careful consideration of the nodes and all the influences in which they participate in the chart. Because the nodes contain and reflect the entire range of human potential, from the basest greed and selfishness to the very highest levels of spiritual enlightenment, they offer important clues to the life and personality reflected in any Vedic chart.

By Michael Sugarman and Tracy Atkinson

(Originally published in the Dec/Jan issue of Mountian Astrologer) Note: 1. The dasas are planetary cycles set up by the placements of the natal Moon in a chart. They are a predictive tool used by Vedic astrologers to map the life cycles and timing of events in a lifetime. The antaradasa is a sub-cycle within the grand dasa cycles.

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