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.

South Indian Chart Format

As I am planning a series of articles on hindu astrology / vedic astrology / jyotisha (please choose your favourite definition 🙂 ) some ground work needs to be done. Today I would like to introduce the chart form I plan to use. There are three different chart forms used in vedic astrology. I am choosing the one that gives a clear overview of the chart and which is the farthest away from western astrological practice, for a better shift from one system to the other.

The south Indian chart is a fixed chart. The signs always remain in the same place. It is the ascendant or lagna that moves. To help get oriented I have indicated where Aries is located. Aries will always be in the second box from the top left. The signs also move clockwise, contrary to western practice. So Taurus will be in the third box from the top left and Sagittarius in the lower left box.

I’ve placed the planets in the signs or their domicile, exaltation, detriment and fall. You will notice a certain symmetry, especially in the domicile chart.

If you divide the domicile chart down the middle you will find that the outer planets are all on the left side while the Sun Moon and inner planets are all on the right side. There are some other interesting interrelationships. For example the common signs are always in the corners with the fixed signs behind and the cardinal signs following. I find the chart supports the symbology in a most satisfactory manner. The dual or common signs in the corners look in two directions. The cardinal signs, following clockwise motion, move away and so show themselves as moving signs. The fixed signs, with reference to the corner signs, demonstrate a reluctance for movement. Examine all of the charts and I am sure you will find other interesting symmetries.


Profection is another traditional predictive technique. Basically the ascendant (and all other significant points are moved one sign forward for each year of life). It can be considered a form of progression and provides additional detail to the new solar year. It is always used in combination with the natal chart. As it is connected to the solar year, it can be used in combination with the solar return.

Profection in Vedic astrology is intimately connected with the solar return. The jyotish solar return is called the varshaphala; literally yearly (varsha), effects (phala). There the only sensitive point that is profected is the ascendant or lagna. This is called the muntha. The muntha plays a very important role in determining the lord of the year. Quite often it is the lord of the year.

While we are discussing the varshaphala I might as well mention immensely interesting use of the terms (or hudda dasa) for determining sub-periods of the year*. The terms – the egyptian terms are used – are divided proportionally for 360 degrees. For example Aries has the following terms:

  • first six 6 degrees belong to Jupiter = 72 days
  • next six 6 degrees belong to Venus = 72 days
  • next 8 degrees belong to Mercury = 96 days
  • next 5 degrees belong to Mars = 60 days
  • last 5 degrees belong to Saturn = 60 days

So if the ascendant of the solar return is at 7 degrees Aries, the birthday being on the 1st of January, the planetary periods for the year would be:

  • Venus for the first 72 days, beginning Jan. 1st
  • Mercury for the next 72 days
  • Mars for the next 96 days
  • Saturn for the next 60 days
  • Jupiter for the rest of the year

Of course this system should be used for a jyotish interpretation as the planetary periods and sub-periods play a more predominant role in prediction. Firdaria would roughly be a similar, though by comparison more crude equivalent.

* for more detail please refer to K S Charaka’s book ‘Predictive Techniques in Varshaphala’

At your Stations!

The heaven of the fixed stars, which is contained in the sphere of the ‘towers’ of the zodiac, is called the heaven of the ‘stations’ (manâzil), because the movements of the planets project themselves upon it. The seven planets, which represent the cosmic intermediaries between the immutable world of the archetypes and the earthly centre, actualise, by their combined rhythms and the reciprocal positions which ensue, the spatial relations virtually contained in the indefinite sphere of the skylimit, the sphere being no other than the totality of the directions of the space and hence the image of the universe.

from: Titus Burckhardt, “Mystical Astrology according to Ibn ‘Arabi” p.26

One volume of Astrology concentrated in two sentences. Titus Burckhardt’s booklet weighs heavier than many an astrological tome. But what is he saying? Let us go through each sentence phrase by phrase.

The heaven of the fixed stars…

Seems straightforward but note he says ‘heaven’ and not ‘sphere’. He speaks of a ‘sphere’ later, so the question here is, are they identical or is there a subtle difference? If they are identical then each of the planetary spheres is a ‘heaven’ and it is here that we have to ask ourselves what we mean when we use the word ‘heaven’. If we explore the etymology then we know that when we speak ‘heaven’ we speak of a covering, a canopy, a ceiling. Titus Burckhardt is speaking of the canopy of the fixed stars in an imaginative sense. When we look up at the starry sky we experience it not as empty and infinite but as a spherical ‘cloak’ covered with stars and these, in relation to each other, are fixed in place like jewels set in a piece of cloth – with the exception of the planets.

…which are contained in the sphere of the “towers” of the zodiac…

The constellations are are not the zodiac. The zodiac is invisible. Each sign is a ‘tower’. The boundry we have discussed before. The border of the sky canopy and the ‘towers’ opens to the mundus imaginalis, the world of imagination, which has its own ‘dimension’.

…is called the heaven of the ‘stations’ (manâzil) because the movements of the planets project themselves upon it.

The stations are in a sense activated by the planets. Note that the stations and the zodiac are not identical, we are speaking roughly of the constellations although major fixed stars such as Aldebaran can also define a ‘station’.

…the seven planets …actualise, by their combined rhythms and the reciprocal positions which ensue, the spatial relations virtually contained in the indefinite sphere of the sky-limit…

The movement of the planets is projected onto not only the sphere of the fixed stars but also onto the sphere of the zodiac and the border that both the fixed stars and the zodiac share – the world of imagry/imagination.

…the indefinite sphere of the sky-limit, the sphere being no other than the totality of the directions of space and hence the image of the universe.

It is not emptiness that is activated — it would be empty if there were no movement— but the fullness of the universe, as image.

“Persian Nativities” and Sect

I recently received my copy of “Persian Nativities” translated and edited by Ben Dykes. Now this article isn’t quite a review as I have just finished reading the introduction and am partway into the Book of Aristotle. I can only speak of a first impression.

It is always refreshing to read a translation where the translator actually thinks in detail about the content and presentation of his translation and where the Introduction ( of course you read the introduction, don’t you?) already provides a few seminal ideas. This is the case here. In section 6 of the Introduction Ben Dykes speaks of the concept of  ‘sect and being “at rest.” ‘ I would like to discuss this a little as I think it is an exciting idea.

A planet in its own sect is referred to by Hugo of Santalla, who translated the Arabic text into Latin, as having quies and quietus, in other words as being at rest or restful, as Ben Dykes points out. How may we visualize this and how may it help to understand sect qualitatively? This is the image that came before my minds eye, actually there were two, but first things first. If you light a candle in a room that has little or no draught, the flame will burn steadily and quietly, and although constantly in motion appears to rest on top of the column of the candle. The flame consumes not only the wax of the candle but also the air (oxygen) around it, so in effect there are barely visible swirls and eddies of warmer and colder air around it. But the general appearance is that of rest. Now carry the candle outside into a light breeze. There the flame is likely to dance around and almost gutter. Sometimes larger, sometimes smaller until either the wind quietens or it is extinguished. Now a planet, traditionally is not just a block of matter, it is a potency, and that is anything but passive. So a planet in sect is like the ever active flame that is allowed to unfold its potency, quietly and effectively. A planet out of sect is not allowed this, its potency must contend with an inimical environment. So the Sun by day effectively shows his potency. His light and warmth are present, felt and seen by all. At night he still sheds light and warmth but it is not experienced.

A second analogy could be found in the animal world. Just think how uncomfortable a nocturnal animal such as the owl or bat would be during the day. Restless would be lightly spoken. The same could be said for a diurnal animal such as a Robin.

I look forward to the passages in the text where sect is discussed. You should too.