As the mainstream becomes more familiar with astrology, even novices are moving past the basics of 'what's your sign' and into the territory of birth charts, ascendant signs, eclipse season, retrogrades, midheavens, planetary stationing and so on. We caught up with expert astrologer Chani Nicholas, known on the 'gram for her straightforward and empathetic approach to 'astrology for intersectional mystics,' to talk about something at once completely familiar to us and totally misunderstood: the moon.
How do you use lunar cycles with astrology and personal life in your practice?
The moon is always in a certain phase. So a), you can work with the moon no matter what phase it's in and b), we're all born at a certain moon phase. We're are all impacted by the phase of the moon we were born with, and we're also impacted by lunar progression, which is the symbolic movement of the moon around our chart. It's a timing technique.
Since it's the fastest moving planetary body that we've got, astrologists have always looked to the moon to understand the timing of something. In astrology the moon symbolizes our body and the body of the person that birthed us, and the body of the person that birthed them. It's our lineage, but it's our physical vehicle.
In our charts, it represents our health and our body to a certain degree, and it talks about our emotional body. As in: our feelings, our senses, our sentiments, the memories of our life, what we hold to be true historically in a sense. The moon is the planet where we look to see what we need in terms of self-care. The moon will tell us what we need when we are insecure, and what we need in a daily rhythmic and habitual way. Since the moon is a local planet, it's about daily life. It's not about big grand life plans; it's about how we live out our big life purpose in an everyday way.
Okay, so it's a repetitive cycle that the moon goes through. Does each phase have its own meaning?
The New Moon is the beginning of something. It's the dark moon, so when it has little to no light. There's the Crescent Moon, which is about struggling to move forward with something new. Then there's the First Quarter Moon, which is about taking action. There's the Givus Moon, the almost full moon, which is about expectation. Then there's the Full Moon, the full bloom, which is when something comes to fruition, and it's also about cross pollination. Following is the Disseminating Moon, which is what starts to release whatever we have culminated or created with the Full Moon. Then, the Last Quarter phase, which is the shedding and letting go of anything extraneous and breaking down systems and structures that don't suit us anymore. Then the Balsamic Moon, which is the dark moon phase. This is about distilling everything down to a little tiny seed of potential to be replanted somewhere else.
The moon cycle has often been related to the plant cycle. Dane Rudhyar, I think was the first person to do that and then Demetra George wrote a book about it called, Finding Your Way Through The Dark, which really impacted in a popular way. The relationship between the lunar cycle and plant cycle is an ancient one because agriculturally, people have always planted seeds at the New Moon.
There's also the obvious correlation between the moon and the menstruation cycle. The mathematics of which probably were what taught us how to count, because historically humans had been making notches in horns and other bones. A lot of the time the horns or bones will have 28 notches in them, so they are counting between the lunar cycle and the menstruation cycles.
Humans noticed from very early on these two things were correlated. So of course all of the correlations that come when the New Moon comes, that's when bodies are supposed to bleed (the release). The full moon is when bodies are supposed to ovulate. So the cycle goes with the moon in that way. The darkness is about the shedding and letting go, so that something new can take place. Some studies say that societies that don't live with electricity, people that menstruate more often than not will be synced up with the lunar cycle. The New Moon being the blood time, and the Full Moon being an ovulation time.
Would you say, that women are more affected by the moon than people that don't menstruate (men)?
No, I don't like to be too gendered by that. I think that people that menstruate do have that natural rhythm. So your body is in a 28 day rhythm and the lunar cycle is in a 28 day rhythm, but rarely do they sync up, for most of us. But just having the experience with both does something psychological for us.
The full moon is obviously the most visible phase, and also has the most connotations in mainstream culture. Why is that?
Yes, it's an incredibly important thing. Think back to pre-electricity: you had fire but fire isn't an easy thing to create and it costs so many resources to keep going. Light at night is a luxury. When we have a full moon, we have light all night. In a world without electricity, it would be a spectacular site. Imagine what that does to our creativity to our imagination when every 28 days we have this full moon.
A full moon demands your attention and sheds a silver light over everything. It changes your perception of the world. The sun and moon are inextricably linked to every myth and and religious practice. They are the origins of our understandings of God, really. We depended on the light, but more than that it was captivating. What is this thing in the sky that keeps changing shapes, that correlates with our body and the tides? The natural world is all we had for so, so long.
How does the moon work with astrology? Is it about looking at your birth chart, and how the moon interacts with your sun sign?
Not your sun sign. That's one of the major things we've gotten wrong in modern time. It's not about the sign that your sun is in. There's way too much emphasis on that. It's about the relationship about where the sun and moon and ascendants are. The sun, moon, and ascendants are the places of life on a chart. They are so important in terms of understanding if this person's life is going to be successful or not.
Because the moon moves so quickly and it's in conversation with so many planets most of the time, the moon is a very personal part of the chart. The sun is too, but the moon is the transmitter, it's in between Earth and every other planet out there. If you don't know the time of somebody's birth, like celebrities, if their moon isn't in the middle of a sign, you don't know what sign they are. It's about timing and it's so personal. It's a very precise measurement.
It's a way of unpacking our life purpose. The sun is this big shining force of energy of life and light, but how do you do that? We can't do that everyday. We're grumpy and moody, and we have a body and we have to sleep it and feed it, walk it: that's the moon. The moon is what you do from the moment you wake up, to the moment you wake up again. It's your physical experience of being a spiritual being. The moon tells us how we live out that big bright shiny purpose of the sun, through the mundane experience of being a human. Everything is connected though. The moon and the sun are places of life on the chart, so we want to know that they are both in good shape, in order for life to be in good shape.
Is it possible to have a moon and sun that are incompatible?
Yeah, they can want different things. They might be in a difficult relationship with each other.
Which would make some of your experiences more trying?
If your sun sign is exuberant and action orientated, for example, but your moon is steadfast and wants to be productive and reliable and consistent than there is a natural discrepancy there.
I mean, I'm a Gemini sun and a Capricorn moon.
Sure, so what I just said. [laughing] Your Gemini wants to go everywhere and do everything and Capricorn's like bitch, get yourself together, let's get on a timeline, let's be productive, let's be consistent, let's show up. And you have to appease both.
And then how does the ascendant come into play?
The ascendant really shapes the person more than anything. The ascendant hasn't gotten enough importance. It dictates the person's body, self, life: it's an incredibly important piece. It's has a lot to do with appearance and how you move about in the world. In ancient astrology, they were giving it the meaning that people now give the sun sign. The ascendant is the motivation for life. In traditional astrology it was also way more about what kind of sign it was, more than a psychological description.
Why do you think it changed from one understanding to now?
They wanted to simplify the whole thing. They take out all of the overly specific things or anything that is complex and give it to the masses so that they can use it. I think they had good intention in a lot of ways.
But then it becomes sort of a game of telephone.
That, and a lot of our astrological text got buried, so they were lost to us. We're just getting back over the last 20 years or so. Texts were discovered, and they didn't exactly know what the ancient library of texts were. People translated them that weren't astrologers, but they were just into translating old material. Then astrologers were like, that's ours! So some text survived, but very few. Really, it's thanks to a group of astrologers through something called Project Hindsight and through other works from a group of astrologers (Robert Hand, Robert Zoler, Rober Schmidt) that got together and started to translate these texts.
Was there one region of the world that astrology came out of?
There's many astrologies. When we talk about modern western astrology, we're talking about something that got its roots from Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt, and then the Hellenistic era with Ancient Greece. People spoke Arabic, Hebrew, Latin, and Ancient Greek so there a lot of different cultures and philosophies that are holding the traditions and passing it on. There a lot of different people and cultures involved, but it's now what we would call northern African and the Middle East.
There's an astronomical text that's about 4,000 years old. For 700 years they tracked the movement of the planets and wrote it down. As far as we know, it's the longest standing text of anything astronomical. These are cultures were devoted entirely to understanding the world around them, and there's always a sky.
The scientific community must have used that text for reference at some point?
This was the scientific community. My main thing is, I don't care who believes in astrology. I just want everyone to understand this was always intrinsically woven into science, religion, and culture. Of course, there were times when it went invisible, but it was there in the structure of the development of philosophy of science and religious practice. It's not about believing, it's about understanding its function in history.
The moon always part of that. It was always a prominent teacher in any ancient tradition. Jews kept it, and there's ways of worshipping the sun which is reflective of Christianity. The winter solstice is Christmas, the spring equinox is Easter, and of course Passover sometimes lines up with that, so the Jews kept the lunar calendar. So every New Moon the Jews gather and say special prayers. To have Shabbat on a New Moon is really special, but every New Moon is celebrated in Jewish life. Which is because it comes from the ancient world. Judaism comes from a time when astromagic and astrotheology was everywhere and everything. No one talks about it, but it's there. It's the foundation in a way.
Is the moon ever negative, given its contrasting relationship with the sun which is seen as positive and life-giving?
No, it's either neutral or good. It's an indicator of life and body, so we want it to be in a good position so that the person that belongs to the chart will have an easy physical life. Especially in the ancient times, you wanted to know, what's the quality of life? Because people died all the time. Are they going to be okay? Are they going to die tomorrow? The moon tells us about the physical experience.
Is there any placement that would indicate a good or negative fortune?
Yes, for sure, but I don't want to give them because people will look at their chart and they will think they have something! It's irresponsible. There's definitely placements where if I have a client and it's really harming the moon I'll unpack it with them. Quite often life is brutal. Many of us have been sexually or physically assaulted, or victims of war or there's something in people's lineage. Few of us have an easy physical experience on the planet. Most of us are struggling.
Yeah, I suppose having good fortune would be the outlier.
Yeah! Having a good set up for your moon doesn't mean you don't struggle, but it will also mean that you're able to bounce back from it. In a way it's a gift. So it's not that the chart will tell you exactly good or bad, but it will tell you if this person has a talent for incredibly difficult things. Some people are just the most positive humans and then you hear their stories and it's like oh my God, I would be miserable if I were you. Like how did you get through that? They might have an incredible set up in their chart. You'll see that things don't always operate the way we expect astrologically. I always look to see if there is a resource there a person can utilize to help them be more resilient in life.
I hate to use this example but, when you and I talked about Trump, there was something along the lines of being able to bounce back. There's a touch of good luck almost.
Yeah, he's protected. Trump is born at a total lunar eclipse, so he has that eclipse energy. The eclipse is politics, the eclipse is facts, the eclipse is reason, the eclipse is everything. He's just chaos, an eclipse energy.
Are we coming up on eclipse season again?
We'll have an eclipse in two weeks.
Will we see some of the energy from the last eclipse return?
The total lunar eclipse is going to happen on January 31, and that's in Leo. So the eclipses that happened last year were also one in Leo. This isn't on Trump's ascendant like that one was, but it's still in Leo and it has a Leo ascendant. So, God knows!
Is there anything that you wish people who are just learning about the moon would focus on?
One thing is that if your born at night in traditional astrology, the moon becomes your light leader. It becomes a little bit more prominent than the sun in a way. Both sun and the mood are incredibly important, there is no one without the other. They are a team, but we could understand that the sun is the energy of the potential of a person's life and that the moon is the embodiment of that. The moon is our physical portal in which we get to manifest our spiritual energy. The moon is our vehicle, the body. It grounds us and it's how we get through everyday life.
To further explore the moon in your chart, check out one of Chani's monthly new moon workshops here.
Image via Getty