Rahu and Ketu: What do the Phenomena tell Us?

Many ephemeris’ list solar and lunar eclipses. So it is easy to see that there are at least 2 a year, dependent on where the nodes are located. Each pair is at one of the nodes, so we can’t say that solar eclipses only occur where Ketu is placed and lunar eclipses where Rahu is placed. This reinforces looking at them as a split entity, in the singular mind you. They can’t be separated.

In the vedic tradition they are looked at as polar aspects of incarnation/excarnation. The sanskrit words used are moha; meaning such things as hallucination, infatuation, distraction, delusion, confusion, and moksha; meaning liberation, release from rebirth, redemption, deliverance. Moha has the root, muh (be crazed, stupefied, bewildered). Moksha has the root muc (to set free, release, deliver, draw off). You might ask yourself how the connection is made between Rahu/Ketu and moha/moksha and how the phenomena observed during solar and lunar eclipses fit into this. I’m going to attempt to fill in the gaps. We need a few more concepts and I think this will be easiest to present them in a table:

Sun atma spirit light-giver
Moon manas mind/gemüt light-reflector
Rahu moha delusion shadow-giver
Ketu moksha release shadow-reflector

Without the Sun and Moon we can’t understand Rahu and Ketu and that is not only at the astronomical level. We need to contrast what the Sun and Moon represent and so need to introduce the concepts of atma (the spirit) and manas (the mind). Atma experienced as a quality not unlike light, intangible and illuminating and manas experienced as a quality of reflection, multiplying, manifoldness.

During the solar eclipse the Moon obscures the light of the Sun as seen from the earth. During the lunar eclipse the light reflected by the Moon is obscured by the earth. This is only possible during a new moon or a full moon taking place when Rahu and Ketu are present. They are associated with the shadow (they are after all called shadow planets). If we want to speak mythologically then we could say that Rahu is the shadow-giver and Ketu his counterpart reflects his shadow. According to the vedic tradition the only reason why we as human beings incarnate is because we desire the material world, we are under the influence of Rahu who gives us the delusion that the material world is the ‘real’ world, that the body that clothes us is the ‘real’ us. Ketu on the other hand forces us out of the body and as such releases us.

Now let’s look at the hushed mood of the solar eclipse described in the last post. If the eclipse were to last over weeks it would be like a drought of light, the strange twilight mood would be like dying so in a sense Ketu can be associated with the in-between time just as Rahu can be associated with the act of swallowing the Sun. Rahu gives the shadow and Ketu in a sense reflects his shadow. Rahu enacts the act of incarnation in that intangible light is swallowed, incorporated. Atma becomes ensheathed by the body, is swallowed. Ketu enacts the moment of dying, the hush, the loss of color, the loss of sense-perception.

A lunar eclipse shows another aspect of the pair. The dull orange color of the Moon can be seen as either the crazed sheen of Rahu’s eyes, lusting for the light of the Moon, but it can also be seen as his reflection, that is, Ketu trying to attach himself to the Moon. Ketu, being headless, would appropriate the reflective quality of the Moon, which is in a sense light in a more tangible form focused on its source, very much like incarnated atma exploring the manifoldness and multiplicity of light as manas. Ketu would envelop it in smokiness, liberate it from its focus, blur it.

You can see that by exploring the phenomena, with a little background philosophy, we can begin to approach some of the significations of Rahu/Ketu and see how they particularly apply to what can be termed the disruptive experience of incarnation/excarnation both from the physical standpoint (grasping for life/death of body) and psychological standpoint (delusion/death of mind).

I am sure there are Sanskrit scholars who could give a much deeper analysis of the root words used in atma, manas, moha and moksha and their interaction with one another, not to mention all of the related words that would expand on the very limited discussion presented above.

The Planets and the Faculties of the Mind

Titus Burckhardt wrote another book, “Introduction to Sufi Doctrine” (you can view an excerpt of the book here.) which might be considered a companion volume to his “Mystical Astrology according to Ibn ‘Arabi”. This volume could help many readers clarify many of the questions that arise in “Mystical Astrology”.

I would like to paraphrase one passage as it is of interest in our previous discussion about the “perfect man”. And this passage, dear reader, is astrological!

“The heart is to the other faculties what the Sun is to the planets: it is from the Sun that these receive both their light and their impulsion…According to this symbolical order [in ‘Abd al-Karīm al-Jīlī’s book Al-Insān al-Kāmil (Universal Man)], Saturn, the most distant of planets…corresponds to intellect-reason (al-‘aql). Just as the heaven of Saturn includes all the other planetary heavens, intellect-reason embraces all things; moreover the “abstract”, cold, and “Saturnian” character of reason is opposite to the solar and central nature of the heart [qalb], which marks intellect in its “total” and “existential” aspect. Mercury symbolizes thought (al-fikr), Venus imagination (al-khayāl), Mars the conjectural faculty (al-wahm), Jupiter spiritual aspiration (al-himmah) and the Moon the vital spirit (ar-rūh). Titus Burckhardt, “Introduction to Sufi Doctrine” p.86

Now let us look at the planets in pairs with the Sun at the center:

  • Saturn – Moon: reason contrasted with vital spirit
  • Jupiter – Mercury: spiritual aspiration contrasted with thought
  • Mars – Venus: conjecture contrasted with imagination
  • Sun – intellect

The first pair caused me the most difficulty to understand until I came across a passage where Ibn ‘Arabi says that the word ‘aql is derived from ‘iqāl, fetter. (See William Chittick’s “Ibn al-‘Arabi’s Metaphysics of Imagination, the Sufi Path of Knowledge” pp. 106-107). Fetter describes precisely the Saturnian quality. Reason defines and thus limits the object of knowledge. The object is bound by logic. This is contrasted with the lunar “vital spirit”. What is this “vital spirit” you might ask? It is considered to be intermediary between body and soul and can best be understood if you examine what happens when you breathe. Transfer that to the “breathing” that happens in thought, that underlying constant waxing and waning of attention which has no definition and which requires an impulse from one of the other faculties to receive direction.

Jupiter – Mercury is a little easier to understand. What is “spiritual aspiration”? It is that faculty of mind which strives to unite all things into one. Let us call it synthesis – bringing together. That fits quite well with the expansiveness of Jupiter. Contrasted is “thought” which would be that faculty which picks things apart in order to understand them. Let us call it analysis. There you have mercurial multiplicity.

The last pair Mars – Venus, contrast conjecture with imagination. Now at first we might ask, “Aren’t they both the same thing?” Well, conjecture is that faculty of the mind which throws things together and forms a conclusion, not always with proof. If you consider how many fundamentalist ideologies work in the world then it is not difficult to see the martial connection. Conjecture rarely allows itself to be tempered by the influence of the other faculties. Conjecture hammers together the non-sensible with the sensible into a form that conforms to itself. Imagination on the other hand forms a bridge. It allows the sensible world and the non-sensible world to interact in such a way that both conform to themselves and are yet something different. Dreaming is a good example of how this faculty works.

The Sun as intellect. Again what is meant by “intellect”? Intellect is understood here as that core faculty that is able to intuitively grasp the fluctuation between transcendence and immanence. It is that faculty that can grasp the microcosm in the macrocosm and the macrocosm in the microcosm and it is the mirror of the Real. Note although the passage quoted above contrasts Saturn and Sun as opposites. There is no contradiction here. Saturn and the Moon are also opposites.

You might, dear reader, examine your chart from this standpoint. Aspects between planets might give some idea of how these faculties interact with each other on an individual basis. So for example if Mars forms an harmonious aspect to Jupiter the conjectural faculty can indeed be tempered a little bit by the aspirational faculty. That means that the structure formed by conjecture takes a long time to be pieced together. Mars with Mercury might indicate that the conjectural construct is quickly finished and may not necessarily have room for tolerance (of course other factors in the chart must always be considered so if you have Mars square Mercury don’t be disturbed consider the rest of the chart in respect to this aspect.)

Here is how I imagine what the planetary spheres would echo about the question, “What is truth?”:

  • Saturn: Truth is what can be logically explained.
  • Jupiter: Truth is like an ocean without a shore. The more you encompass it the greater it becomes.
  • Mars: My truth is plausible. Let me tell you about it.
  • Sun: Do you mean truth or the Truth?
  • Venus: Truth has many semblances but is always the same.
  • Mercury: Just look at it, truth is everywhere. You can even count it.
  • Moon: Truth is like incense that wafts by. Breath it in and exhale it.