So, I am going to start with something that everyone is familiar with, and that’s the lunar cycle. Everyone has stood in the evening sky and looked up at the Moon, which is always changing – no night will ever be exactly like the one before it. Essentially, the Moon today will be different than the Moon tomorrow.
The phase of the Moon is dictated by its angle to the Sun. The New Moon begins each month as the Sun and the Moon conjoin in the same sign of the zodiac. Of course, during the New Moon, the Moon is not visible, and the heavens are completely dark, which is eerie and a bit foreboding. The Moon then travels at the speed of approximately 13 degrees a day until it forms a 90-degree angle (square) to the Sun, and this is known as the first quarter moon stage. The Moon continues to increase in light until she forms a 180-degree angle (opposition) to the Sun. This angle is known as the Full Moon stage, and when you look up into the sky during this phase, the Moon is huge and in all her splendor. The Moon continues its trek through the zodiac until it reaches the last quarter moon when it forms another square (90-degrees) to the Sun. Finally, she continues to wane, decreasing in light, until she conjoins the Sun again during the next New Moon and completes its circular cycle.
The lunar cycle has fascinated people for thousands of years. She appears in numerous stories of the undead in both literature and film, and several songs have been written about her. Luna (the Moon’s name) is also a central figure in several children’s stories. Her cycle changes constantly and it’s unpredictable, yet predictable nature reflects an archetypal image associated with the feminine principle.
There are a few mythic images that I feel reflect this ever-changing cycle, and myth, which in its original context means ‘a scheme or plan,’ often describes archetypal imagery more eloquently than we can.
The first figure that I want to explore are the Fates. These are the three daughters of Mother Night. In Greek Myth, the Fates were said to be born without a father, which interpreted psychologically means that the Fates reflect natural laws that exist beyond human consciousness and the control of the ego. The concept of the Fates can be terrifying because it involves the mysterious parts of life that cannot be controlled or harnessed in any rational way. In many ways, the Fates are ‘Mother Nature’ who rules over natural processes including our biology because no matter who we are or our position in life, the reality is that we will all one day die.
Besides the Fates, there are other mythic figures that are part of a lunar trinity that are relevant – The Graea, the Stygian Witches, the Erinyes, and even the bearded ladies in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. But, perhaps, the three most important figures connected to the lunar cycle are the Goddesses Persephone, Demeter, and Hecate.
Let’s begin with Hecate because she is the mythic image of the New Moon. There are some conflicting stories of her parentage. In some mythic stories, she is the only child of the Titans Perses and Asteria, and other sources say she is the daughter of Zeus and Hera. However, all mythic sources agree that she is the Goddess of Witchcraft, magic, and ghosts (Theoi). Hecate is a mysterious figure who often appears at the crossroads, in tombs, and is a revered goddess of the Underworld. Additionally, Hecate had an association with childbirth. So, this enigmatic force, like the New Moon reflects endings and beginnings.
The most important story in which Hecate appears is in Homer’s Hymn to Demeter. Demeter who is grieving for her daughter Persephone, is guided by Hecate to discover Persephone’s abduction by the God of the Underworld, Hades. Symbolically, we can say that Hecate helps process unconscious potentials and birth them into the light of human consciousness. Likewise, the New Moon landing in a sensitive area of the chart acts as a trigger for events that bring the unconscious forward to birth new potentials and possibilities.
We can now move on to Persephone, the daughter of Zeus and Demeter. She is symbolized by the crescent moon, which is ready to ripen and fulfill its potential.
Persephone’s story is one of the most famous Greek myths. Persephone lives with her mother Demeter on Earth. The two were constant companions and bound by their love for one another. However, Aphrodite found this relationship unnatural and stirred up the underworld god Hades to fall in love with Persephone.
One day, while Persephone was out picking flowers, Hades burst out of the underworld through a passage created by Gaia, whose an older undifferentiated version of Demeter. Hades abducts Persephone and brings her to his underworld kingdom of the dead.
Predictably, Demeter becomes distraught over her missing daughter, and she travels the earth looking for the young goddess. Eventually, with the help of Hecate (an older version of both Demeter and Persephone), Demeter finds out that Hades abducted Persephone. Demeter pleads with Zeus to return Persephone, but the god refused her. So, Demeter goes berserk and scorches and burns the earth and lets the living suffer from starvation and disease because of her overwhelming grief.
Zeus finally relents and orders Hades to return Persephone to her mother, but before he does, Hades cleverly knows that Persephone ate of the food of the dead (a pomegranate), which binds her to the underworld. Since Persephone ate six seeds, and since the laws of the underworld supersede the powers of Zeus, Persephone must live six months of the year with Hades and six months with her mother, which is a mythic allegory for the change of the seasons.
Persephone is an image of promising potential. Her nubile youthfulness is innocent and unformed, but beneath the surface, the budding growth to womanhood persists and is ultimately her fate. Likewise, the crescent Moon, which begins as a sliver of light, continues to grow day by day to blossom into its fullness eventually. Just like Persephone goes through experiences in her growth process, so does the Moon as it ripens into fullness.
Let’s now take a look at Persephone’s mother, Demeter. Demeter is the eldest daughter of the Titans Chronos and Rhea. She is an earth goddess and is often referred to in myth as the goddess of the grain or agriculture. Primarily, she governs growth and fertility, and many of her stories involve the cultivation of crops, which symbolizes her connection to the life cycle in its numerous phases.
Besides the Persephone myth, Demeter is a significant figure in the story of Prince Demophoon, the son of King Celeus and Queen Metaneria of Eleusis. Demeter arrived in Eleusis, disguised as an old lady (again a connection with Hecate) and was invited to be a wet nurse for the young prince.
During her stay in Eleusis, Demeter was insulted by Abas, the king and queen’s older son, which she turned into a salamander. Demeter feels guilty for her actions and decides to do a favor for the king and queen and grant their newborn son immortality. Every night she slowly burned off Demophoon’s mortality over a fire, but on the night before the transformation is completed, Metaneria enters the room and catches Demeter in the act, disrupting the process. Moreover, Demophoon dies, and Demeter reveals herself in all her glory.
Upon finding out that another one of his sons died, King Celeus falls into deep grief. Demeter offers him comfort and informs the king that she would grant gifts upon his remaining sons, including Triptolemus, who assists Demeter in ultimately finding Persephone.
Demeter reflects the ripening potential of the Full Moon. She is a goddess that governs the growth process, and despite her attempts to keep Persephone frozen in childhood, it is through her laws that Persephone must grow and become a woman in her own right. Natural laws connect Demeter with the Fates, whose rules are irrevocable. Everything must grow, ripen, and ultimately whither, and even the mother goddess cannot stop or override her decrees.
The story of Demophoon is a powerful metaphor for the disruption of the growth process. Although the story is filled with alchemical imagery, the myth reveals the implications of attempting to ‘interrupt’ the process, which ironically Demeter was doing to her daughter. We all go through cycles where our growth is necessary as part of the process of our evolution, and myth warns us of the complications of attempting to skirt nature. In many ways, like the Full Moon, Demeter reflects that something has ripened in our lives and for us to enjoy the fruit, we must embrace and respect the process.
Finally, after the Moon reaches its peak performance, it slowly shrinks in light, and we enter once again into Hecate’s mysterious realm, and a new cycle begins again.
Now, this is a lot of mythic material, but understanding the lunar phases is essential in astrology because all planetary aspects have phases that they go through. They conjoin at the conjunction, face obstacles at the first square, challenges at the opposition, and a final hurdle at the last square only to begin the process once again. For some planets, this process happens monthly or yearly, but in the case of the social or outer planets, this process can last decades or centuries, but the patterns regardless of the planets remain the same.
A valuable way of noticing the Fates at work is through examining our own lives. Everything, regardless of whether it’s a relationship, friendship, job, or profession, has a beginning and an end. We can look at situations in our lives and see the defining points, and when things changed. Although we may not like what is happening when it happens, and even at times resist change, when we get beyond our emotional attachments and reactions, we can see how our experiences have ultimately helped us grow.
I want to discuss eclipses before closing this blog on ‘Lunar Phases,’ which are often misunderstood or dramatized to epic proportions. Like Mercury retrograde, I feel that eclipses are often cast as celestial villains. I don’t think that is particularly helpful and doesn’t give us much of a chance to work with them productively.
If you don’t know what an eclipse is, let me give you a quick rundown.
The astrological year begins when the Sun moves into Aries, which is the beginning of spring in North America and the beginning of autumn in South America. Astrologically, this is 0 degrees of Aries. During the astrological month, the Moon travels through all the signs and will conjoin the Sun, which as we discussed is the New Moon, and the Moon will oppose the Sun, which is the Full Moon.
Twice a year, we enter into eclipse season. An eclipse occurs when the lunation conjoins the lunar nodes. This happens approximately every six months. Eclipses are supercharged new and full moons that are significant when considering transits and progressions, and they are often triggers that activate slower moving planetary transits.
You can track eclipses in an ephemeris, astrological calendar, or with software. If the eclipse (and to a less extent new and full moon) is in a hard aspect to a planet (use a 3-5 degree orb) then that planet will be eclipsed, and if that planet is in a problematic configuration, then the entire configuration will be activated. Especially if that configuration is already being aspected by a slow-moving transit, the themes can easily become triggered.
There is a lot of disagreement regarding how long eclipses sensitize the chart. Some astrologers state years, some a couple of weeks, and others use Saturn as an indicator as to when the eclipse concludes. For example, if an eclipse happens at 2 degrees of Taurus and Saturn is at 4 degrees of Cancer, then the eclipse would be active for about 2 ½ years until Saturn gets to 2 degrees of Leo. Astrologers that use this method use only the hard aspects (conjunctions, squares, and oppositions). Since I am a psychological astrologer, and I am concerned with natal astrology for life-coaching purposes, I use the six-month window between eclipse seasons for their activation and sensitivity. So, when one eclipse energy begins, then the other eclipse ends. In other words, the Fates spin their web elsewhere within the chart.