Some Medieval Uses of the Nodes
© 2010 by Benjamin Dykes, PhD
In this article I will explain the meaning and some uses of the Nodes in medieval astrology (which I define here as lasting roughly from 750 CE to 1500 CE). I will rely primarily on the many statements and examples about the Nodes found in Guido Bonatti’s 13th-century Book of Astronomy (BOA), especially since he has collected much lore from his predecessors.
Of course the lunar Nodes are the places where the Moon’s movement through the zodiac crosses the ecliptic; but other planets have Nodes as well, the general name for which is the Arabized Persian word jawzahirr. But the lunar Nodes are the most important ones, probably because they also mark places where total eclipses of the Sun and Moon happen (by definition an eclipse takes place where the paths of the luminaries coincide). A full solar eclipse always takes place on a Node, but a Node does not always mark an eclipse.
Many modern astrologers attach notions of karma and reincarnation to the Nodes, borrowed from jyotish or Indian astrology; but medieval astrologers did not share these ideas and treated the Nodes differently. Some of their characteristics are similar to planets’: (a) they rule periods of time in a native’s life, known as firdariyyah (the Head or North Node 3 years, the Tail or South Node 2 years); they are said to have exaltations (the Head in Gemini, the Tail in Sagittarius, both at 3º), which may be related to the Hellenistic diagram of the Thema Mundi or birth-chart of the universe; they have something like orbs, between 10º and 12º on each side (though they do not cast rays); they are used in the calculation of at least one Lot: the Lot of Poisoned Things is taken from the Head to Saturn, and projected from the Ascendant; Valens even has a longevity calculation that involves the Nodes in primary directions.
The basis of the Nodes’ individual natures comes from the north/south distinction in ecliptical longitude. Northern latitude is generally considered more powerful and benefic than southern latitude, so the Head (which marks the Moon’s crossing into northern latitude) is more benefic than the Tail (marking a crossing to southern latitude). Their natures and effects can be categorized in two ways: by their essentially benefic or malefic natures, and by their effects of increase and decrease (which accidentally have benefic or malefic effects). (Though the Nodes have these benefic and malefic affinities, both are considered detrimental to the Moon herself.)
Medieval astrologers considered the Head to be naturally masculine, and “benefic” because its nature is composed of the nature of Venus and Jupiter. By contrast, the Tail is naturally feminine, and “malefic” because its nature is composed of the nature of Mars and Saturn. These natures imply certain benefic and malefic effects because they have a fundamental activity of increasing (the Head) and decreasing (the Tail). According to conventional views of good and evil, increase and abundance are broadly beneficial to us: they signify “matters which are susceptible of increase, namely a kingdom and dignities and substance, and loftiness, and good fortune.” Again, according to conventional views, decrease and privation are broadly detrimental to us. Of course, whether increase or decrease is helpful or harmful really depends on the context. For example, death is (conventionally) an evil. So although we commonly speak of growth and increase as “good” things, the growth and increase of death is not a good. Growth and increase are not always and unconditionally good. Thus the specific context of the Node in a chart matters: for instance, which house it is in, which planet is joining with it.
In particular, Head will increase the good of benefic planets and houses (and therefore be accidentally benefic), and increase the evil of malefic planets and houses (and therefore be accidentally malefic). Likewise the Tail will decrease the good of benefic planets and houses (and be accidentally malefic), and decrease the evil of malefic planets and houses (and be accidentally benefic). Thus the standard medieval statement that the Head is malefic with malefics but benefic with benefics, while the Tail is malefic with benefics but benefic with malefics.
Below we will see some of the ways this qualitative and quantitative increasing and decreasing works in practice. But I would like to mention briefly two evocative and concrete effects of the Tail: namely, that it destroys and empties out. For instance, the Tail will show by its house position an area of life which is destroyed or comes to nothing or becomes empty. These effects should be distinguished from those of the malefics: Mars burns up and causes friction, while Saturn stiffens and creates burdens; but the Tail cancels, empties, and drains out.
In the 61st Consideration of his BOA, Bonatti describes at length the Nodes’ natures and distinguishes the applications and separations to and from them. Put briefly, (1) if the Lord of the Ascendant or the Moon is with a Node by bodily conjunction, it signifies impediment in every matter, and the impediment will come from the area of life signified by the house they are in; (b) it is worse if a significator or Moon goes toward a Node than if it separates from it; (c) when a significator or the Moon goes towards the Tail, it is like someone in a shipwreck who is losing hope—but when separating, it is like someone in a shipwreck who finds a plank or piece of dross to hold onto, which gives him “hope of escaping, and sometimes he escapes”; and (d) the greater the distance from the Node, the less the effect: from 0º-1º has the most intense effects, but between 9º-12º there is hardly any to speak of. The only point of clarification I would make here is that the kind of Node matters, just as I stated before.
Let us look at several examples given by Bonatti and from my own practice.
Topic 1: Conquering a city. In horary questions regarding the conquering of cities, the 4th house signifies the city in question. In order to discover whether the city will be taken, we are looking for signs of weakness in relation to the 4th and its Lord. Indicators of strength show that the city stands, but weakness shows its fall. For instance, if the Tail is in the 4th, it can show the loss or even evacuation of the city. The following chart is based on one given by Bonatti from his days as a military consultant, but with modern calculations:
The question posed to Bonatti by his employer (the military commander) was, “would the castle be occupied?” Jupiter was both the Lord of the 1st and of the 4th, and he is aspecting the 4th by whole sign. These rulerships and aspect should signify querent’s ownership and capture of the castle, “provided that the things which had to be done for its capture came about”: in other words, the castle would not fall into the commander’s hands by his doing nothing. Moreover, Mercury, the Lord of the 7th (the opponent) was weak in the 12th, and so showed the weakness of the enemy. Then, Bonatti suggests that even though the Head was in the 4th (suggesting increase and strength, so that the castle would stand), Saturn was near it. By the standard rules, the Head conjoined to Saturn should have increased Saturn’s destructive power, therefore showing again that the castle would be taken by the querent.
However, Jupiter was in his descension in Capricorn, and did not aspect the 1st (which shows a lack of managing power in traditional astrology), and the Moon was weak in the 6th. These factors showed that the querent’s army was low-class and lazy, and that they were not going to do what it took to capture it. In other words, while the castle could be taken, the querent will not be able to pull it off, no matter that he wants to! In this case, the Head plays a role in the determination of the result, but does not by itself clinch the outcome.
Topic 2: Fame and rule. If a querent expects some form of rulership and asks what kind of rule he will have, and the Tail is in the 1st (showing his personal weakness), we should see if the Lord is cadent from (that is, not aspecting) the 1st, or else in a bad aspect to it. We should also see if a malefic is in, square to, or opposed to the 1st. In this case, the Tail in the 1st and the malefics’ bad aspects to it, weaken the querent’s own being; and if the Lord of the 1st is in a bad aspect to or in aversion to the 1st, then the querent’s ability to manage the affairs of his house is impaired (either by a bad relation, or by having no relation at all). Bonatti says: “his household members will be unfaithful, and his ministers will be low-class people, and his deputies and officials will be evildoers and will make him sad and trembling, and their actions will be such that they make him to be condemned in his reign or rule; and the evil deeds will be those which bring about the cause of the destruction of his rule or reign, and will sadden him; and he will always fear that evil will be done to him in his rule or office as long as he remains in it.” Following is a diagram indicating the Node in the 1st and the Lord of the 1st in aversion (I have used whole-sign houses for easier viewing:
Topic 3: Some 6th house questions. The topic of the 6th house offers some opportunities to see how qualitative changes are effected through the Nodes. To continue on the topic of what kind of rule the querent will have, Bonatti says we are also to see if the Lord of the 1st is in a good or bad place. If it is in the 6th or the 12th, it shows that someone below him will rise up and depose him. This will show that the querent is weak and surrounded either by subordinates (6th) or secret enemies (12th). But the presence of the Nodes in these houses will describe the quality of such people: if the Head is there, his condemnation will be stronger (due to the increased influence of the subordinates or secret enemies rising up against him); if the Tail is there, the condemnation will be weaker (due to the decreased influence or perhaps the low quality of such people):
Likewise, the 6th house shows animals used in a war (or in a modern context, military equipment and transportation and support, but perhaps even tanks and jeeps as modern “horses”). Suppose the querent is a military commander, and wishes to know what kind of animals he will have. Bonatti says that benefics or the Head in the 6th shows valuable animals, while malefics or the Tail there shows low-quality animals. This is a case where the Head and Tail show the quality of the matter. Or, suppose a querent or native wants to know how he or she will relate to servants or slaves or other hired help, and whether such subordinates will be useful. The Tail in the 6th house shows a scarcity of slaves, and that sorrow and discomfort will come to the native because of them. Again, this shows both a low quantity and low quality of the people signified by the house the Tail is in.
Topic 4: Accusations and rumors. Questions about accusations and rumors have to do with whether statements about a crime are true. But how exactly are the Nodes related to truth and falsity? When someone is accused of thievery, we give the Ascendant to the accused. We want to see if its Lord is in a good or bad condition. In a good condition, and strong, the accusations are true and he is a thief. But in a bad condition and weak, especially if the Ascendant is a movable sign and afflicted by the malefics, and especially with the Tail in it, then he is falsely accused. This might seem counterintuitive: shouldn’t a good condition show that the accused is really a good person and not a thief? But in a question such as this, what the Ascendant and its Lord really show is the case against the accused: the astrologer is not evaluating the man himself, but the case against him. The stronger the Ascendant and its Lord, the better the case against him; the weaker they are, the worse the case. The Tail in the Ascendant voids and destroys the case, showing its weakness, and therefore the innocence of the accused.
In a question regarding whether rumors are true or false, the situation is similar. According to Bonatti, we must “consider what kind of Ascendant it is. If Jupiter or the Sun or Venus or the Head of the Dragon were there, it signifies the truth of the rumors. If however none of them were in the 1st, consider the 3rd. And if you did not find any in the 3rd, consider the 5th. And if you did not find any in the 5th, consider the 9th. And if you found one of the aforesaid planets (which are truth-bearing) in one of these places, it signifies the truth of the rumors, even if it is solitary, provided that it is not impeded.” Again, as in the case of accusations, a fixed sign on the Ascendant shows the truth of the rumors, while mobile signs show their falsity. There is an element of electional doctrine here, since fixed signs tend to show that a matter is stable and lasting, whereas movable signs show that a matter is more fleeting. In the case of accusations and rumors, being “stable” and “solid” lends itself to a strong and true accusation or rumor, and being “mobile” and “fleeting” lends itself to weak and false accusations and rumors.
Topic 4: War. The topic of war horaries is complex, and there is much material devoted to them in Bonatti and Sahl bin Bishr (deriving probably from a work on military astrology by Theophilus of Edessa, an 8th century Greek astrologer in the employ of the Caliph al-Mahdi). Here I will only mention a passage by Bonatti on determining who will prevail and how long the war will last. Bonatti offers several indications as to the length of the war: the malefics in the angles will show a quick war, because angles show things happening dramatically and quickly; but in the succeedents and the cadents, the war drags on. Along with such indications, Bonatti says that if a malefic is with the Tail, it signifies the “strength of the war.” This may seem counterintuitive, but the idea seems to be that if the malefic (who signifies war) is weakened by being with the Tail, then the malefic will not have the ability to bring the war to a quick conclusion: the result being a long, dragged-out war or quagmire that is more devastating than if there were a quick victory.
Topic 5: Children. Here we are looking at issues of pregnancy and miscarriage. I will abbreviate Bonatti’s statements. (a) In questions about pregnancy, we look to see if the benefics are impeded (which signifies a lack of conception or abortion or miscarriage). But the Tail in the 5th signifies that the quaesited woman is not pregnant, because the Tail “signifies emptying.” (b) In questions about whether the querent will ever have children, the Head in the 5th (or the benefics) indicates we should “not give up hope of looking for children; because they all signify that the querent will have children.” (c) In questions as to whether a woman is pregnant with more than one child, “look for this from the Ascendant, and see if the Ascendant were Gemini or Virgo or Sagittarius or Pisces; or if the Ascendant were any one of the other signs and had two good planets in it or in the 5th: she has conceived two. If however the Head of the Dragon were there with them, say that she carries more than two in her womb, and it is possible she carries four.” (d) In an absolute question as to whether the querent will ever have children, the Tail in the Ascendant indicates few or no children.
Topic 6: Longevity. Here we move to the prediction of life expectancy. The central technique for determining longevity in the medieval period involved finding two planets or points. The first planet or point is the hilaj (often called the hyleg), which indicates the biological life of the native. It is used in primary directions to determine the life span. The second planet (and it is always a planet) is the kadukhudah (often called the alchocoden), which indicates the expected life-span (which may be cut short by the primary directions of the hilaj).
I will not describe the methods for determining the hilaj, but will only point out two items of interest. First, when looking at the possible candidates for being the hilaj, a candidate is ruled out if it is too close to either Node. The idea seems to be that both Nodes, as “knots” (Lat. nodus, “knot”) in the circles of the Moon and Sun represent hindrances to life (since the luminaries are preeminent significators of life). When a candidate is so ruled out, we must look at other candidates to see if they qualify.
The second point is that, since the Nodes are naturally killers, we can predict death by directing the hilaj to a Node (in this case, Bonatti states it is the Tail). He says, “And you will see in which of those years the hilaj arrives at the bodies of the malefics, or to the places in which they were in the nativity, or to their square aspect or the opposition; or to the Tail of the Dragon, or to the degree in which [the Tail] was in the nativity…it signifies that the native will die in that year or month or day, namely at the hour in which the arrival of the hilaj to the aforesaid places (or to some one of them) is perfected.”
Once we find the hilaj, we must find the kadukhudah to determine the expected years of life. These years are not exact, but will often give a date within a couple years of death, as when today doctors or statisticians make predictions of death or life expectancy. Again, I will not explain the methods here because they are too complex. But when we find the planetary kadukhudah, we look to see which of its planetary years it will give (of its lesser, middle, or greater years). If the kadukhadah is very strong and well-dignified, it will want to give its greater years; if very weak, its lesser years; if in the middle, its middle years. Determining which years it will strive to give, is a complicated process.
Once we have found the years we expect the kadukhadah to try to give, we must see whether the kadukhadah is supported by benefic planets or afflicted by the malefics or the Nodes. Of the various calculations to be made, Bonatti reports: “al-Kindi said the Head of the Dragon, if it were with the kadukhudah by 12º before or after, that it will subtract one-fourth of the years [of the kadukhudah]–which however I have not proven (that I remember); [but] regarding the Tail, it is so. And it harms more if it were with the Moon than with another of the significators.” To illustrate this, following is the nativity of a famous person, whose name I will conceal for the moment.
In this nativity, I consider Venus to be the kadukhudah, so she will give a baseline expected longevity, provided that this number is not modified by other conditions. Venus is in her own domicile and angular in the 7th house, both good indications that she will give her greater years, which are 82. So we expect the native to live to the age of about 82. But we also see that Venus is conjoined very closely to the Tail, which according to the rules means that we must subtract one-fourth of her expected years: 82 years – 20.5 years = 61.5 years. So we have two numbers to deal with: an expected longevity of 82 years, but in some way cut short at 61.5.
The chart is that of the recently deceased Pope John Paul II, born in May 1920. Based on the greater years of Venus, we would expect him to live to age 82, which would make May 2002. In fact he lived until age 85, dying in April 2005; but he was in very poor health, and surely without the best medical care he would have died before that. Still, it is within a couple of years of the expected years of the kadukhadah. What about the years we took off for the Tail? Age 61.5 would give us December 1981: the Pope was shot by an assailant in May 1981 at age 61.1, and were it not for good medical care, he would have died.
Topic 7: Lovers. Naturally, medieval people were concerned about questions of love, just as we are today. In his Treatise on questions, Bonatti presents a situation in which a man asks whether his wife is having an affair. Bonatti says that “if indeed the Lord of the 7th were with the Head of the Dragon without a conjunction of another, say the woman is not to be blamed; if indeed it were with the Tail without a conjunction of another, she seems blameworthy, and in the past, and now, and in the future she will be able to be blamed.” In this case, it seems to me that the Lord of the 7th represents not just the wife but the wife’s honor or morality. If the Head is with the Lord of the 7th, then it shows her honor is preserved and strong; but if the Tail is with it, her honor is destroyed and weak.
Topic 8: Dreams. Before moving to a short summary of some of the things I have seen in my own practice, I will mention that Bonatti discusses the meanings of the Nodes in dream horaries. To put it simply, we look for planets in and ruling key places in order to delineate the content of the dream and what will come of it. Bonatti (following Sahl) says: “And if the Head were in one of the aforesaid places (whether alone or with some planet), then it signifies that he saw gold and odiferous things, and delightful pleasure-gardens, and in which he delights, and the like. And if the Tail were the significatrix, it signifies that he saw obscure smoky things, or perhaps that he saw someone consumed by fire, or he saw mist or sick people or illnesses or weeping, and a murmuring [or rushing] sound, and dead people, or the burying of the dead, or tombs, and he was very scared for this reason; or he saw verbal fights between some people, or a beheading, and the like.”
Charts from my own practice. Here I will abbreviate some of the indications I have seen. First, I delineated the marriage of a female client. I noted that the Sun was in her 7th house. The Sun signifies the husband in general, and by being in the 7th I was sure it signified the husband himself. I expected the Sun to be a powerful, strong, honored man…but the Sun was conjoined to the Tail. This meant that while he was strong and had a position of power, his status was lessened and he had vices pertaining to the Sun. The husband was a state highway patrol official, rough, arrogant, and bullying. The Tail did not take away the Sun, but depleted its glory and left something weaker and with vices.
A male querent came to me because he was about to be deported. He wanted to know, before his last chance in court, whether he would win or lose. There were classical signs that he would lose, and I told him so. But I also noted that Jupiter, who naturally signifies law, and was the Lord of the 9th, was in the 6th. I took this to be the querent’s lawyer (since people in the 6th are servants of the 1st), and I noted that Jupiter was conjoined to the Tail. I told the querent I believed his lawyer was weak and inexperienced – and indeed, he was an inexperienced young lawyer who had only been assigned to the querent at the last minute. I never heard back from the querent, but months later decided to look him up in the court records. The court in his district records all of its proceedings in audiofiles, and makes both them and the written decisions available on the internet. Sure enough, not only did the querent lose his case (and many other details of the reading were correct in other respects), but the audio of his lawyer showed the voice of someone in his mid-twenties, uncertain of himself, with a trembling voice.
A male native had the Tail in the 7th and the Head in the 1st, which showed that the overcoming of obstacles and enemies was a constant theme in his life. The Head shows his gaining, and the Tail shows the waning of the obstacles.
A male native had the Tail in the 1st, along with other malefic planets. From this I could tell that loss (signified by the Tail) was a recurring theme in his life (and adversities would rise up: the Head in the 7th). Indeed, during the period of the firdariyyah ruled by the Tail, his wife became very ill, and his father developed Alzheimer’s: the Tail was conjoined to Saturn, the significator of his father (nocturnal chart).
A male native was religious and had an active spiritual life, but when his Ascendant was profected to the 9th (the location of the Tail), his religious and spiritual practices almost totally stopped, and he withdrew from the religious organization he had been part of for years. Now, this situation of the Tail in the 9th is an odd one, because I often find it in religious people who are my clients. One would expect that the Tail would make the native’s religion weak. But as I discussed this situation several years ago with a colleague, he pointed out that the Head would be in the 3rd, and the 3rd also classically signifies religion. But what kind of religion? Well, the 9th, the joy of the Sun, is better suited to organized, orthodox religion, complete with hierarchies and great offices (which is usually what it signifies in medieval astrology). But the 3rd, the joy of the Moon, is better suited to folk and informal religion, including the use of divination and dreams and visions, which describes the native’s spiritual activity accurately.
In this article I have not been able to give you detailed examples on every topic that Bonatti and other medievals describe in relation to the Nodes, nor have I been able to show you more charts or go into them in depth. But the Nodes are well worth paying attention to, and if you follow the traditional techniques regarding them, you will find delineating them to be very concrete, accurate, and rewarding.
Al-Qabisi, The Introduction to Astrology, trans. and eds. Charles Burnett, Keiji Yamamoto, and Michio Yano (London and Turin: The Warburg Institute, 2004)
Bonatti, Guido, Book of Astronomy, trans. Benjamin N. Dykes (Golden Valley, MN: The Cazimi Press, 2007)
Sahl bin Bishr, in Works of Sahl & Masha’allah, trans. Benjamin N. Dykes (Golden Valley, MN: The Cazimi Press, 2008)
Valens, Vettius, The Anthology (Book II concl. & Book III), trans. Robert Schmidt (Berkeley Springs, WV: The Golden Hind Press, 1994)
BOA p. 299.
BOA pp. 776, 1097; al-Qabisi V.19.
BOA pp. 243, 269, 1139.
BOA p. 187.
BOA pp. 187, 384, 587-88.
BOA pp. 187-88.
BOA pp. 322-23, 337-38, 561.
Or, as Bonnatti explained it: “The 61st Consideration is that you look to see whether the Lord of the Ascendant (or the Moon) is [corporally] with the Head or Tail of the Dragon: because then it signifies impediment in every matter; and the impediment will come from or out of the cause that is signified by the house in which the conjunction (namely, of the significator or the Moon with the Head or Tail) is. And another conjunction of the Head or Tail does not harm unless [it is] corporal, because they do not have an aspect nor an opposition. And it is worse when the signficator or the Moon goes toward them than when [the significator or the Moon] recede, as is said elsewhere: for when they go toward them, then they signify the ultimate evil, just like what happens to him who is in a ship when it is in danger, and it is broken in the sea, because then there is no hope for him. But when they recede from them, it is like when a ship has already been endangered, because one of the navigators can cling to something (namely to a plank or dross and to similar things) which gives him hope of escaping, and sometimes he escapes. And it must be known that when the significator of a matter or the Moon goes toward the Head, its malice is increased; and it is more than when it recedes from it, because its nature is to increase. And when it goes toward the Tail, it is not wholly the extreme malice like when it is separating itself from it, namely less than 1º. From 1º earlier its malice is not so great as it is within that degree, even though it is great; and from one to three, it is said to be less enough; and from three to five, it is said to be again less; and from five to seven, it is said to be small; and from seven up to nine, it is said to be smaller; and from nine to twelve, it is said to be practically none.”
BOA p. 513.
BOA pp. 515-16. I have used Alchabitius Semi-Arc houses.
In the context of ruling, this probably means lower-level workers, office staff and servants.
BOA p. 596.
BOA pp. 590-91.
BOA pp. 507-08.
BOA p. 1266.
BOA pp. 471-72.
BOA p. 576.
BOA p. 578.
BOA p. 495.
BOA p. 408.
BOA p. 409.
BOA p. 412.
BOA p. 409.
Readers interested in one version of the method may see BOA pp. 1129-46.
BOA pp. 1141-42.
BOA p. 1132.
BOA pp. 1138-39.
This chart is unrectified; I have simply taken one of the commonly-found times.
BOA p. 444.
BOA p. 565. See also my Works of Sahl & Masha'allah p. 146.
See e.g., Sahl pp. 4-5; BOA pp. 99-100.