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Understanding Eclipses

So, what makes eclipses different from the regular astrological lunar cycle, and why are some quite severe while others just feel like a regular New or Full Moon on steroids? Astrologer Robert Carl Jansky famously wrote that eclipses either show stronger than usual areas of emphasis or they show crisis.

For those very new to astrology, let’s get the basics right. A New Moon occurs when the Sun and Moon are aligned, or conjunct. A New Moon will always be in the same astrological sign as the Sun, thus New Moons only occur in the Sun’s astrological seasons, e.g. a New Moon in Aries can only happen when the Sun is also in Aries, thus an Aries New Moon happens once a year either in late March or early to mid April, “Aries season”. A Full Moon occurs when the Moon is in the sign opposite the one the Sun is in, so during “Aries season” the Full Moon will always be in Libra, the sign opposite Aries.

A solar eclipse only occurs at the conjunction of the Sun and Moon, or New Moon. A lunar eclipse only occurs at the opposition of the Sun and Moon, or Full Moon. Lunar eclipses only happen fourteen days before or after a solar eclipse, so eclipses come in pairs, hence the phrase “eclipse season”.

By definition, an eclipse can only occur when the North and South Nodes of the Moon are involved in the lunation. The closer the degree to the lunation, the stronger the eclipse. Total eclipses have the tightest orb (degree of separation) between the Moon and the Moon’s Nodes; partial and penumbral eclipses have wider orbs. (The Moon’s Nodes aren’t physical bodies but actually mathematical calculation points.)

An astrological solar eclipse occurs when the New Moon is at least 18 1/2 degrees or less from one of the Moon’s Nodes; a lunar eclipse when the Full Moon is 12 degrees or less from one of the Node’s. Thus, the more the North or South Node is involved in an eclipse, the stronger we feel the effects on Earth.

Understand the Moon’s Nodes, and you will understand what separates eclipses from regular New/Full Moons.

Total eclipses are stronger than partial ones and penumbral eclipses are the weakest. Generally speaking, an eclipse involving the North Node moves us in a better direction than an eclipse involving the South Node. Involvement of the South Node can show either a harsh destructive element to the eclipse, or a more productive but still uneasy “emptying out” or clearing of the themes involved in the eclipse.

Traditionally (and as detailed in Jansky’s Interpreting The Eclipses), eclipses were considered more in terms of countries and their leaders than in the lives of average folks. In the lives of everyday people, though, one reason for eclipses not living up to their hype is because people tend to use too wide an orb when looking at where eclipses fall in their chart. A very tight orb of 3 degrees or less -and preferably 2 degrees or less- to a person’s birth planet or angle positions should be used. For example, if your Sun or ascendant is at 28 degrees Virgo and an eclipse is a 9 degrees Virgo, it’s far less likely you’ll see dramatic, major upheaval in your life. More typically, you’ll experience it as a Full or New Moon “on steroids”.

Personally, I’ve never seen an uneventful eclipse to a person’s natal chart angles (ascendant, descendant, Midheaven/MC or Imum Coeli/IC) when using tight orbs/degrees. While eclipses to natal planets and angles are powerful, it’s particularly powerful when impacting the luminaries (Sun and Moon) and the Nodes – it is my opinion that eclipses to the natal Sun, Moon and Nodes are the strongest of them all, as these are what constitute an eclipse in the first place.

Eclipses to the natal Sun tend to show new beginnings, while eclipses to the natal Moon tend to put one in touch with their own history and sometimes show a relocation.

So, you can see why eclipses don’t always live up to their hype at an individual level; eclipses only happen a handful of times per year anyway, and those that actually fall within a couple degrees of something in your chart happens even less frequently.

I don’t recommend using the trine or sextile aspect to your chart for eclipses at all; they are “soft” aspects that don’t really translate eclipse energy all that much. Conjunctions to your natal positions will always have the most impact, followed by the opposition and to a much lesser extent the square.

The subject of house systems in astrology is another thing unto itself entirely, but one can sometimes use eclipses to judge whether they’re using the best house system for themselves. Going with the idea that eclipses either show higher than normal emphasis or crisis, if an eclipse isn’t hitting your chart hard and instead falls in an unoccupied stretch of a natal house, you should still feel the themes of that house strongly. Eclipses are good times for newbies to experiment with the house systems to see where the eclipse “feels” strongest.

While a New or Full Moon tends to play out for as long as the Moon is in its sign of lunation (typically two days or so as the Moon moves fast), eclipses tend to have much longer lasting effects. Thus, it’s common for things to unfold some time after an eclipse, long enough for a person to not connect it to the eclipse at all. Being mindful of where eclipses fall in your birth chart and how strongly (or not) that your chart is impacted should help to make one alert for possible unfolding events further down the line.

There’s a common theory that the first astrological body to cross the sign and degree of an eclipse “triggers” the eclipse and that it’s actually here that we see the eclipse manifest. It’s actually not a view Jansky took and he refutes it in his book. However, there are those that swear by it, so if an eclipse looks like it’s going to hit your chart in a big way, you might want to look at the next planet that passes though that area of the zodiac for timing events in your life. How long an eclipse lasts is a point of contention among astrologers.

Eclipses in the fixed signs -Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, Aquarius- tend to be the most disruptive, as the eclipse quite often shows changing circumstances and fixed signs, by nature, resist change. There’s often a feeling of bedrock shattering. Eclipses in the mutable signs -Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius and Pisces- are the most uncertain and unstable, as circumstances shift without shape or focus. One is left to figure it out as they go along. Eclipses in the cardinal signs -Aries, Cancer, Libra, Capricorn- are the most energetic and tend to show the biggest changes or new starts.

Eclipses to one’s progressed chart don’t always manifest in tangible ways; rather, they sensitize one to the presence of the progression. Read here to learn more about progressions.

See also:

Understanding Solar Returns

Understanding Progressions

Understanding Planetary Joy

Understanding Barren And Fertile Signs

Understanding Dignities And Debilities

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