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Sunlight and Shadow

THE GEMINI NEW MOON & SOLAR ECLIPSE

Wednesday, June 1, 2011 at 2:03 pm PDT
The Moon and Sun Conjoined at 11.02 degrees Gemini

In late June of 1992, just a couple weeks before my wedding, there was a partial solar eclipse visible where I was living in Southern California. My fiancé (and soon-to-be husband) constructed a pinhole camera and we got ready to view the eclipse on our back porch.

As the Moon progressively obscures the Sun during a solar eclipse, the sunlight dims and the air temperature falls a few degrees — and it was truly a strange experience to have this happen at the height of summer in Southern California. I remember the birds stopped singing, the air cooled, and the breezes picked up just as they did each evening at dusk.

We waited for the eclipse to begin with our trusty, hand-crafted cardboard "camera," but soon realized that we need not have gone to the trouble. For every tiny gap between the leaves of the trees that surrounded our house provided an aperture through which hundreds of miniature replicas of the eclipse began to appear, scattered everywhere. But the best show of all was under the chaise lounge where the minuscule holes in the webbing produced zillions of tiny eclipses. All over the surface of the back porch, we were surrounded by shadow images of the sun with a bite taken out if it, our local star partially eclipsed.

Eclipses often unleash their most powerful effects in the path of visibility, and two days before that 1992 eclipse, a magnitude 7.3 earthquake struck. Three brief hours later, ANOTHER big one, this one a 6.5 magnitude quake, also struck. Preceding these two biggies, on April 23, the 6.1 Joshua Tree earthquake hit, and six days after that, the Los Angeles Riots broke out over the entire L.A. Basin. Triggered on April 29 when a jury acquitted four Los Angeles Police officers in the (videotaped!) beating of Rodney King, who had been pulled over for speeding, thousands of people rioted for six days following the verdict. There was widespread looting, assault, and arson. 53 people died during the riots and thousands more were injured. The elementary school where I was teaching First Grade was shut down for a few days, and the closest rioting to us was across town where the Long Beach Department of Motor Vehicles was burned, we could see the smoke hanging in the sky from our home.

On the morning of our wedding, just a couple of months later, which we had planned as a small, simple outdoor ceremony in the backyard, it rained — really rained that is — a downpour to be exact that drenched everything. Because it was Southern California and the middle of summer, we had not made any backup plans. I don't know if it was because I was a teacher and so used to daily chaos, or just in a state of pre-matrimonial shock, but I didn't get worked up about the rain. The sun eventually came out, everything more or less dried off, and it ended up being a glorious day for a wedding, if not a bit humid. An unseasonal tropical storm off the coast of Mexico had been the culprit. And despite a visible solar eclipse just days before nuptials, scary riots, three very large earthquakes, and an unexpected downpour the morning of our wedding, we have somehow managed to remain happily married for almost 19 years now. The photo shows us smiling for yet one more photo during the reception.

An eclipse occurs whenever the Sun, Moon and Earth align, which is when a New or Full Moon falls close enough to one of the lunar nodes. The lunar nodes mark the intersection of the Moon's orbit around the Earth with the Earth's orbit around the Sun, appropriately called the "ecliptic." Orbits are planes, and if you remember from geometry class, two planes intersect in a line, and the two opposing points that mark these places of the intersection are the nodes. These are the points where the moon, in its orbit, crosses from south of the ecliptic plane to the north (which is the ascending or north node); and the point where the moon crosses from north to south (the descending or south node).

It is very interesting to note that although the Sun is 400 times larger than the Moon, the Moon is in turn 400 times closer to Earth! An awesome cosmic "coincidence." And it is because of this coincidence that, when the Moon's orbit takes it in front of Earth, it blocks the Sun from view, creating a solar eclipse.

So who on earth gets to see today's eclipse? Here's the description of the path of visibility from NASA's website:

The eclipse begins at sunrise in Siberia and northern China where the penumbral shadow first touches Earth at 19:25:18 UT. Two hours later, greatest eclipse occurs at 21:16:11 UT. At that time, an eclipse of magnitude 0.601 will be visible from the Arctic coast of western Siberia as the midnight Sun skirts the northern horizon. Although most of Alaska and northern Canada will witness the partial eclipse, the southern limit of the penumbra falls along a curve from south of Fairbanks to central New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Reykjavik, Iceland receives a 0.462 magnitude eclipse just before sunset. Northern most Norway, Sweden and Finland also get a midnight Sun eclipse with the event hanging above the northern horizon. The partial eclipse ends at 23:06:56 UT when the penumbra leaves Earth just north of Newfoundland in the Atlantic Ocean

 

So that's the astronomy and geometry of the nodes, but what about their personal and collective meaning? What do our natal nodes represent in our charts? And how do eclipses, that fall twice a year in our lives, dovetail with this symbolism?

Astrologer Clare Martin* offers, in my opinion, one of the best insights into the lunar nodes' astrological/psychological function I have read to date:

Well, the Nodes are in fact empty places in space, except during eclipses, so we have to resist the temptation to interpret them as if they were 'simply' planets. They seem to have a profoundly metaphysical meaning, since it is on these points that the Sun, Moon and Earth are in alignment, so they are the meeting place, symbolically, of spirit, soul and matter, both collectively and individually. Another important point about the nodal axis is that it is moving in the opposite direction to the Sun and all the other planets. As the angles and all the planets move forward or anti-clockwise around our charts, they describe how we engage with and relate to the world around us. The Ascendant/Descendant axis and the MC/IC axis are doors into the world, describing our struggle to extract ourselves from the parental matrix, to put down our own roots and find our own place in the world, and to define ourselves through partnerships. In contrast, the nodal axis moves backward or clockwise around our charts. It is not so tied up with the dramas of life. Rather, it seems to function as a doorway into other dimensions, where we can sometimes glimpse or sense our soul's purpose and pattern, our entelechy, the deeper purpose and function of our existence. And this can be very different from the more conscious or worldly goals we set for ourselves.

There is no doubt that the nodal axis is of immense significance in our lives. It is an axis of tension and compulsion, around which ideas of 'fate' and 'destiny' always seem to hover.

 

"To appreciate the power of an eclipse," astrologer Gary Caton wrote in an article for The Mountain Astrologer last year, "it is useful to understand that time here on Earth is fractal. It is measured by the constant repetition of the primal alternations of darkness and light. This rhythm of dark/light is ingrained into our bodies and psyches." And most powerfully in evidence during eclipses.

"When there is a disruption of this pattern, via an eclipse, the natural flow of the dark/light fractal is stopped in its tracks. There is darkness where there should be light. It is as if the Laws of our Universe are temporarily inverted. The world is stood on its head, specifically in terms of the archetype within which the eclipse is operating."

 

Today's Gemini New Moon and Solar Eclipse will fall at 11 degrees of this Mercury-ruled air sign at 2:03pm PDT, and occurs courtesy of the Moon's descending or south node, currently at 23° Gemini (North Node in opposition at 23 Sagittarius), the south node, or dragon's tail, is considered the "point of release." The Sun will be in trine aspect to Saturn for the eclipse, with the Lord of Karma especially powerful now as it is nearing its station direct. Saturn in aspect to the eclipse brings more serious, earthy issues into play, and the "reaping of what one has sowed" playing a major role in the chaos and upheaval, this "resetting" of energies, that comes with every eclipse. Saturn could provide ballast and support, structure and foundation to this time of change; however for those with a less than ideal relationship to Father Time, Saturn's influence may function to fan fears and scary security issues to an unhealthy degree. Because Saturn is currently in Libra, fears and security issues associated with relationships and partnerships are most definitely highlighted. Watch out for this as fear is ideally meant to inform us and guide us, keep us from making harebrained choices, rather than stop us dead in our tracks! With Saturn involved in this eclipse our very relationship with fear and security issues and how these manifest in the realm of relationships (Libra) and mental function (Gemini) is definitely up for major adjustment.

The lunar nodes have been known from ancient times in many cultures worldwide as the head and tail of a celestial dragon or serpent, a creature that devours the Sun or the Moon during eclipses. The Nodes have played a particularly important role in Indian, Vedic astrology, where the north Node ('Rahu') is the dragon's head and the south Node ('Ketu' shown here) is the dragon's tail. Because of the freaky nature of eclipses, obscuring our celestial light, bringing chaos, upheaval, sometimes devastating events and unwelcome change, you can imagine why they were considered maleficus, associated with the "ill doings" of shadow, darkness and evil. But to limit their significance this way is a mistake, for the nodes and the eclipses they produce — as the one that fell before my wedding illustrates — can bring very welcome and beneficial change along with crazy, chaos! You never really know what you are going to get when eclipses strike, yet there is if you look an order at play, that is very hard to dismiss especially when you track the events in your life through the connective tissue of eclipses.

Looking back over the course of one's own days and noticing how encounters and events that appeared at the time to be accidental became the crucial structuring features of an unintended life story through which the potentialities of one's character were fostered to fulfilment, one may find it difficult to resist the notion of the course of one's biography as comparable to that of a cleverly constructed novel, wondering who the author of the surprising plot can have been.

— Joseph Campbell, The Inner Reaches of Outer Space

 

Last summer, a total eclipse occurred, visible in the South Pacific, produced by that very same Saros series that delivered "my" 1992 eclipse, and the eclipse fell exactly on my wedding anniversary, July 11th. How's that for cosmic synchrony! Moreover, our plans coincidentally are to travel and perhaps relocate to none other than this same region of the planet. And I only just discovered this connection last night while reading up on today's eclipse.

 

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*You can read Clare Martin's entire piece, Lesson 5 on the Nodes of the Moon, which is part of her excellent Introduction to Psychological Astrology at Astrodienst.

The painting at the beginning of this essay that beautifully captures the effect of dappled light through the boughs of trees is by American painter Albert Bierstadt and is titled "Sunlight and Shadow" (1862) Here's a website where you can view more of his work.

Campbell, Joseph, The Inner Reaches of Outer Space: Metaphor as Myth and as Religion. Novato, CA: New World Library, 1986.