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.

Visions of Rahu and Ketu

Before looking at the mythological descriptions of Rahu and Ketu, we should first look at how the phenomena of the solar and the lunar eclipse present themselves. If we do, we will find that the mythological images give a striking visual equivalent. Somehow direct experience of the phenomena makes it easier to appreciate the mythological image as well as enabling one to understand the accompanying ‘mood’. The difference is like reading Shakespeare’s Hamlet and seeing it performed on stage by good actors. If you have seen an excellent performance of Hamlet, then it is so much easier to grasp the depth of the play when reading it.

IN 1999 I  had the good fortune, in spite of very poor weather, to have a good view of the solar eclipse whose path passed over central Europe. The first phase, where the Moon slowly obscured the Sun did not have any notable shift in light, even up to the thinnest sliver. That changed dramatically once the eclipse was complete. A shadow passed over the countryside. It was suddenly very still, not even the birds in the area made a noise. A pensive, brooding twilight settled. It wasn’t quite night but neither was it day.

A lunar eclipse is not as dramatic as there is no strong shift in light. It is already night and the eclipse itself has the effect of a New Moon. The phenomenon seems to focus more on the Moon itself. There comes a point where the Moon becomes a pallid sickly orange. Some like to dramatize and speak of a ‘blood Moon’ but I think the blood colour is a bit anemic, more like a reflection of red rather than red itself. There are some videos on the net that show a strong red, but I wonder if a red filter was used. 🙂 Here is a video link of the lunar eclipse on 15 June 2011.

Let’s compile descriptions of Rahu-Ketu freely taken from the literature. I have elaborated a little. Quotations of the slokas may be found all over the web. You might even recognize them. 🙂

Rahu is a smoky shifting blue-black tall, red-eyed gestalt, horrible to look at. He lives in the dark forest of the sky. The remembrance of his body trails behind him in a cloud of haze, shifting now and then into sight are glimpses of the multicolored clothes he can no longer wear. Trailing far behind him on the far side of the horizon surrounded in a wraithlike haze of smoky shadowy blood, clothed in the rags of a one-time splendor is his headless serpentine body, Ketu.

Now back to the eclipses. Rahu looks at the Sun and Moon with insatiable hunger. His lust for the Sun cannot be directly seen, but when he lusts after the Moon the red of his hunger is reflected by the Moon before being swallowed. Because Rahu-Ketu has no body they cannot but live in the in-between spaces of the sky. They aren’t substantial, just points, mere shadows, echoes of the splendor of the Sun and Moon. Their clothes are an echo of that splendor. The blue-black haze is that of the twilight engendered by the solar eclipse and the darkness of the lunar.

In the next post I would like to look at some of the significations of Rahu and Ketu.

Rahu and Ketu

The original impulse to start this weblog was to present material on the Moon’s nodes. I haven’t yet approached them from the jyotish point of view. Now is the time. Of course I cannot be exhaustive. The whole point being, dear reader, is to whet your appetite so that you will explore further on your own. 🙂

One noticeable difference between western astrology and jyotish is that each of the nodes is more personified, they have a name and a face. In western astrology the name of each node is purely descriptive; north, south, dragon’s head, dragon’s tail. The dragon itself isn’t named, generally. The descriptive language has one level of meaning. If you want more you have to add the mythology. The Sanskrit names, Rahu and Ketu have in themselves many levels of meaning and in a sense contain the mythology in concentrated form. Almost like a seed.

Let’s look at the names first:
The name of Rahu is derived from the root, rah or ranh meaning ‘to rush on.’ It is also related to the roots rabh or grah meaning ‘to seize’ (Incidentally the Sanskrit name for ‘planet’, graha, is also derived from the same root).

The word Ketu on the other hand is derived from the root cit and means ‘brightness, clearness, bright appearance.’ (see Monier Sanskrit/English Dictionary)

Now the names provide us with a riddle. Why does one seize and grasp and why is the other bright and clear? Aren’t both of these shadowy points, malefic? Shouldn’t the second one also be something nasty and mean? Bright?If however you remember that the Rahu and Ketu are nodes, two points form by the cutting of two paths, dismembered so to speak and that they are complementary to each other, never alone, then you could speak of them as ‘Rahu-Ketu’. If you then put the two roots together you have a rushing, grasping for brightness clearness, which in a sense describes what happens during an eclipse. Darkness grasps, seizes brightness; is successful for a short while; brightness is then released on the tail end. The head grasps brightness, the tail releases brightness.

This might give us a clue to the jyotish significations of Rahu and Ketu.

We’ll look at their faces in a future post.

Vimśottari Daśa: the Numbers Behind It

As I have recently been reading Jyotisha literature more intensively. I would like to share some of the material I find of interest, particularly as not every book is easily obtainable. I was fortunate in coming across a copy of ‘Astrology and Jyotirvidya’ by Viswanath Deva Sarma (published in 1973 and never reprinted it seems). He provides a wonderful overview, complete with tables, on the division of Vimśottari into its Daśas or periods and also provides a unique insight into how the periods came to have the divisions that they have.

In a later article I want to look more closely at how this fascinating system is applied.

First, Vimśottari literally means ‘120’. So Vimśottari Daśa simply means the divisions of 120. Quite straight forward. These are the divisions and also their order:

Sun 6 years
Moon 10 years
Mars 7 years
Rahu (North Node) 18 years
Jupiter 16 years
Saturn 19 years
Mercury 17 years
Ketu (South Node) 7 years
Venus 20 years

If you add everything up you arrive at 120. But just why Venus should have 20 years and the Sun only 6 is much more mysterious. But be assured. There is a logic behind it. First where does the number 120 come from? Hindu astrology uses 27 lunar mansions known as Nakśatra. Each Nakśatra is 13 1/3 degrees long.  (13 1/3  × 27 = 360). There are nine ‘planets’ (including Rahu and Ketu). 13 1/3 × 9 = 120.

You might already have noticed that the lunar month, roughly 27 days, is brought in relation to the solar year, 360 days. This is the first clue as to how the divisions are arrived at. We have an interaction between two major divisions of time, that of the Sun (360) and that of the Moon (13 1/3) with the planets (9).

The solar year is composed of 12 months which each have 30 days.  Now if we convert to the lunar month each day is equal to 1 nakśatra which can be divided into 60 danda. (the danda is equal to 60 pala which are equal to 6 prāna which are equal to 10 guru-aksara which are equal to 27 nimeṣa which is equal to one blink of the eye which is roughly a second.) 😉

The crucial step is to bring into relation the time it takes the Sun to make a complete circle of the ecliptic and the time it takes for the Moon to make a complete circle. You could say that a lunar ‘year’ is equal to a solar month. V.K. Sarma describes it thus:

solar period lunar period
1 year 360 ‘years’
1 month 30 ‘years’
1 day 1 ‘year’
1 danda 6 days

and the reverse:

lunar period solar period
1 year 1 day
1 month 5 danda
1 day 10 pala

The last two numbers are the ones we want. 6 defines the length of the Sun’s Daśa and 10 that of the Moon. Now all that is left is to determine the periods for the rest of the planets. V.K. Sarma describes it thus: the inclination of the Moon to the axis of the earth is 24 degrees (cosmologically) or 23 1/2 degrees (astronomically). If we subtract the solar and lunar periods from 24 the difference is 14 and 18. 14 and 18 divided in half gives us 7 and 9. So the basic numbers we can work with are 7 and 10 for the Moon; 6 and 9 for the Sun.

I’m going to put the results in tabular form as I think it is easier to understand what happens:

As you can see there are some interesting interactions going on. The two outermost planets make use of the Moon’s major number (10) and the major and minor number for the Sun while the inner planets only use the Moon’s major and minor numbers. Rahu doubles the Sun’s minor number and Ketu uses the Moon’s minor number as does Mars.

Saturn 10 + [(24 – 6) ÷ 2] = 10 + 9 = 19 years 10
Jupiter 10 + 6 = 16 years 10
Mars (24 – 10) ÷ 2 = 14 ÷ 2 = 7 years 7 Moon
Rahu 18 years 18 Sun
Ketu 14 ÷ 2 = 7 years 7 Moon
Sun 6 years 6 Sun
Moon 10 years 10 Moon
Mercury 10 + [(24 – 10) ÷ 2] = 10 + 7 = 17 years 10
Venus 10 + 10 = 20 years 10

Knotty but not Naught: the Lunar Nodes

I concluded the last article with the question, ‘What happens when you step on a node?’

In our travels as a planet around the Tree of Knowledge and the hidden Tree of Life there are two crossing points where the roots of the Tree are especially prominent. The radix of the Tree has two knots on opposing sides. One is elevated above the ground and the other is submerged deeply in a small depression. These are crossing points and require our attention if we wish to pass across them without stumbling or stubbing our toes. Let us look at these knots, yet again.

The knots are of course the lunar nodes (nodus is latin for knot or crossing). They are literally crossing points. Here the Moon intersects the ecliptic, the path of the Sun and so they do indeed have a ‘fateful’ character, especially should the Moon be near the crossing when she fully receives the light of the Sun or when she is fully obscured by the earth. Then either a solar or lunar eclipse occurs. Another characteristic is that the nodes are perpetually in retrograde, they are not static. As the Moon moves forwards they move backwards and only the Moon and the Sun  ‘conjunct’ them literally. And so the Nodes are intimately connected with two other invisible points that are formed by the movement of the Sun and the Moon – the Part of Fortune and the Part of Spirit. The only difference is that with the Parts of Fortune and Spirit there is a third factor, the Ascendant. It is precisely this third factor which gives us an additional clue as to how to ‘read’ the lunar nodes. The Ascendant is our very personal connection with our incarnation and so the Parts of Fortune and Spirit show our orientation towards our outer and inner life, in this incarnation. The nodes are superordinate and so it is not surprising that they are often associated with what is known as karma. They show our orientation not to our inner and outer life but to that of the World. They are, to use Christian imagery the two nails on which we hang on the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life. They are points of conscious awareness and as such also of agony in all levels of meaning (ἀγών – agon means contest in classical Greek).