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Eclipses: The Latitudes of Home

I became an astrological eclipse-watcher completely by accident. In the early days of my practice, I decided one week to prepare a lecture on eclipses for my intermediate astrology class. I did a little research and found quite a bit that had been written about the astrology of eclipses applied to politics, natural disasters, and sundry portents of doom. I found little, though, that reflected the practical, everyday concerns of my students. So I began to develop a lesson plan based on what I knew – which, admittedly, wasn’t much.

I knew, for instance, that eclipses move through the birth chart approximately every nineteen years, so that an eclipse makes the same aspect to roughly the same point in your birth chart about every nineteen. In astrology, the quarter and halfway points in a cycle are also very potent. So if eclipses meant anything, they would presumably transmit their message across a cycle of eighteen years, with cosmic punctuation marks occurring at intervals of about four and a half years. Here, at least, was a framework on which to hang my tenuous lesson plan; but unlike planets and their cycles, the astrological message of eclipses wasn’t clear. What did eclipses mean?

I didn’t have a clear answer for my class that week, but I was hooked. In the years that followed, I peered into the charts of my clients, family, and friends to observe what happened when eclipses shook up their lives. I set about deconstructing my own life, isolating major events and listing the eclipses that occurred in the same years. And what I found was that the most pivotal events of my life tended to have something in common: eclipses, forming aspects to the same few, sensitive areas of my birth chart. I began to develop a sense that eclipses forecast scary, prickly moments of truth, turning points, when something important is changing and the landscape of your life suddenly looks unfamiliar, even alien.

Three months before a Solar Eclipse at 08.04 Virgo, 1970.
I was watching Captain Kangaroo with my sister the morning they came to tell us our father was dead. It was the first day of June, 1970, a morning of clear and dazzling light and a sky washed clean from the previous night’s rainstorm.A knock at the back door. The sound of muffled voices; I recognize one as my uncle’s. I step cautiously to the door of the kitchen; I can make out a few words… “Jim…” “through the windshield”… and my mother begins to cry, to sob. I gather something has happened to “Uncle Jim,” a family friend. What does it have to do with us? My aunt is moving toward me through the kitchen, a stricken look on her face; she reaches me at the precise moment I hear my mother’s voice screaming into the phone, jagged as cut glass, “Where is my husband? What have you done with my husband?”My aunt gathers me up and holds on tight, and that’s when I realize it wasn’t Uncle Jim who went through the windshield of his car that rainy night. It was my father. I hide my face in the comforting familiarity of my aunt’s calico house dress, and I begin to cry; I barely stop for three months.

Carlos Castaneda writes of Don Juan’s teachings about the “assemblage point,” one’s innate sense of balance, which can suddenly shift in response to an unexpected event. Likewise, an eclipse signals that something in you has shifted, as surely as an earthquake shifts the foundation of a house. Sometimes, the shift is subtle; a crack in the plaster, a picture that falls off a wall. Other times, when the eclipse point makes a close aspect to a difficult planetary combination in your birth chart – as it did for me in 1970, when my father died – your whole house is picked up and shaken.

This year’s eclipses, then, resonate with earlier eclipses that happened at the same place in the zodiac, and therefore the same places in your birth chart. This happens about every 19 years; what were you doing then? What about 9.5 years earlier, when an eclipse opposed that point? Those years, and the things that happened to you then, are relevant to your life right now. The eclipses that happened then are cosmic cousins of this year’s eclipses, whispering across the years, urging you to pick up a dropped thread of your life’s narrative…

Between eclipses at 4.23 Pisces and 18.40 Virgo, 1988
I’m huddled in a phone booth in Sydney, Australia, hysterical, explaining to my mother that the boyfriend I just traveled all the way around the world to visit is completely and utterly out of his mind. Twenty-seven years my senior, he has always been a bit eccentric, and I knew he was probably an alcoholic. But in the two years since I last saw him he has developed full-blown mental illness; last night he woke me up at 2:00 a.m., checking the overhead light fixtures for hidden cameras. Mom is concerned, but there is nothing she can do for me. I can’t even get a flight out for two more days. I am stranded thousands of miles from everyone who knows and loves me, and I am staying with a crazy man. I hang up the phone and stand there for a moment, listening to the monorail train pass overhead. I’ve never felt more alone in my life.

Mark Twain once famously wrote, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.” Losing my father, being stranded far from home with an unreliable man… these are separate acts in a long-running play whose central plot centers around the wisdom of relying on men for my security. Not surprisingly, eclipses in both of these years made difficult aspects to the Moon (symbolizing security) and Pluto (symbolizing threatening forces beyond our control) in my birth chart. And each year marked a turning point in my ongoing Moon/Pluto struggle to acquire emotional self-reliance.

The way eclipses work.

We think of eclipses as rare, but in fact, solar eclipses occur every six months at the New Moon, within a few days of the Sun’s conjunction with the North and South Lunar Nodes. Solar eclipses are usually, but not always, accompanied by a lunar eclipse at the Full Moon before or after the solar eclipse.

Some astrologers argue that there is a difference between solar eclipses and lunar ones, associating them, respectively, with external and internal events. Personally, I’ve never gotten much insight from this distinction. After all, solar and lunar eclipses occur within a mere two weeks of each other. Likewise, outer events and inner ones tend to happen close together. One may happen slightly ahead of the other, but for all practical purposes they happen in tandem. For me, the fascination of eclipses, be they solar or lunar, is the change they portend – and almost always, we change on the inside and the outside, all at the same time.

Eclipses in Houses

As they move through the houses of the horoscope, eclipses reveal the landscape that is being altered, the areas where you are changing, growing, muddling through unfamiliar territory. In short, they describe where you are currently most interesting.

Eclipses move clockwise through your chart (unlike normal transits, which move counter-clockwise), falling in the six house axes (teams of two houses which are directly opposite one another) of the chart approximately every nine years, like so:

1st house / 7th house
12th house / 6th house
11th house / 5th house
10th house / 4th house
9th house / 3rd house
8th house / 2nd house

The sizes of these house axes vary depending upon which house system you’re using, and where you were born. For instance, people born extremely north or south of the equator will have one or two of these axes that are extremely large, while the rest of the houses are very small. Obviously, as eclipses move through your chart, they will pass more quickly through a very small house axis than through a very large one. On average, though, each house axis of your chart will be sensitized by eclipses for one to two years at a time.

Eclipses in Aspect to Natal Planets

Eclipses tend to be more keenly felt when they form close aspects to planets in your birth chart –especially by conjunction (0 degrees), square (90 degrees), or opposition (180 degrees). And when an eclipse makes an aspect to one natal planet which in turn aspects other natal planets, all of them feel the reverberations. When this matrix of interconnected planets receives an aspect from an eclipse, a narrative emerges that, like my Moon/Pluto eclipse story of loss and insecurity, gets repeated over and over throughout your lifetime. Eventually, it becomes as familiar as the plot of a movie you’ve seen many times before.

Look to the personal planets (Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars) in aspect to the outer planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto) to find the most sensitive planetary combinations in your birth chart. Unless an eclipse triggers these high-tension aspects in your natal chart, or falls very close to the cusps of the first, fourth, seventh, or tenth houses, you are likely to experience it as a relatively subtle influence, the flutter of a leaf in a chilling breeze. But each time one of the high-tension planets is aspected by wandering eclipse, you are given another opportunity to face down one of your fundamental fears – perhaps a fear of anonymity (the Sun), of sexuality (Mars), of authoring your own life (Saturn), or of reality (Neptune).

It’s not all bad

Not all eclipses are associated with what we think of as unhappy events. Many coincide with joyous moments, such as a marriage, or the birth of a child. But because we don’t expect to be frightened or disoriented by positive events, and receive little support from others for our feelings (“For heaven’s sake, can’t you even enjoy it when something good happens to you?”), these positive eclipse turning points are in some ways more traumatic than tragic ones. The truth is, even choosing something good for yourself can shake up your life and call forth old fears….

One month before an eclipse at 13.55 Sagittarius, 1993
In a couple of weeks I’m getting married, to the kindest man I’ve ever known. Ever since my father died, I’ve been wary of depending on others; but now I’m choosing to become completely interdependent – and I’m absolutely terrified. What if he suddenly dies? What if he takes me away, someday, to his native New Zealand and then something happens to him, and I’m stranded there, far from home?

One day, as we chat about wedding plans, he accidentally calls me by his ex-girlfriend’s name. Already stretched to the breaking point by the tension of the wedding plans, I shatter like glass, and run from the room. I fall on the guestroom bed, weeping. How can I marry someone who calls me by another woman’s name?

Almost immediately, I know how silly I’m being, and how much of my reaction is about all those deeper, older fears of intimacy. I know, now, about eclipses, and those old wounds to the lunar and Plutonian parts of me. “So what if all those things happen, the things you fear?” whispers the steely, eclipse-tested part of my psyche. “They’ve happened before and you lived through them. Be happy now.” My poor, abashed beloved hurries into the guestroom to apologize and to comfort me; but I’m already feeling much better.

The latitudes of home

Because it’s painful to remember the scary moments of the past or contemplate the uncertainty of the future, we tend to go through life ignoring the reality that our entire lives can be irrevocably changed in an instant. Every now and then, when someone close to us dies, a terrorist attack wounds our country, or some other personal crisis shakes us up, we are startled awake for a moment and behold a landscape we scarcely recognize. Our instinct, then, is to turn away as quickly as possible and return to the latitudes of home.

But even after life returns to normal, the shadowy image of the eclipse remains emblazoned on the psyche. Each time the eclipse’s shadow falls across one of our guiding lights, we awaken to old fears and, hopefully, get a bit better at facing them. But the eclipse-touched places in us remain a little ajar, just below the surface. They are as rich as freshly-plowed earth and ready to receive the seeds of startling change – even after we’ve returned to our everyday lives, and have gone back to pretending that the sun and moon will never disappear again.

Note: “The latitudes of home” is a phrase borrowed from Annie Dillard’s essay,  Total Eclipse, in The Annie Dillard Reader, HarperCollins, 1994.

This article originally appeared in Llewellyn’s 2006 Moon Sign Book. Some changes have been made in this version.

© 2005-2024April Elliott Kent. All rights reserved.

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