By Nicki Michaels
Originally published in The Mountain Astrologer, Feb/March 1998
© 1998 Nicki Michaels - All Rights Reserved
can be defined as a technique for the
study of life-cycles. Its main purpose
(is to establish) the existence of
regular patterns in the sequence of
events constituting man’s
inner and outer experience; then, to
use the knowledge of these patterns
in order to control or give meaning
to these experiences...Indeed, the
study of cycles----that is, of periodical
activities in nature, human and otherwise----is
the root of all significant knowledge,
be it scientific or philosophical.
And the study of cycles is a study
The Lunation Cycle
Visit the Rudhyar
Audio Archives and listen to
Dane Rudhyar himself discuss the
lunation cycle, transpersonal astrology,
and many other astrological topics.
Rudhyar is arguably the seminal
astrological innovator of the twentieth
century. His many contributions
have been so thoroughly integrated
into astrological thought that his
concepts are often used by others with no
awareness of, or attribution to their
source. No one's ideas are more
often used and less often understood
than Rudhyar's. While his writings
are vast, and necessitate time and
study to comprehend, Rudhyar's most
significant contributions to twentieth
century astrology are, at the core,
simple and elegant. They
are based upon the common human experience
of, and relationship to, the cycles
of nature, and the understanding that
time itself is cyclic and marked by
periodic celestial events, such as
the monthly lunation cycle as expressed
in the Phase Mandala diagram above.
Rudhyar recognized that astrology
developed through early human's experience
of the natural environment. The
magnificence of the starry night sky
inspires awe and wonder even today—imagine
how it affected our early ancestors! The
night and day cycle, the monthly waxing
and waning of the Moon, and the yearly
seasonal cycle define our most basic
experiences of life. It is by
understanding these cycles that we
can comprehend the nature of all astrological
cycles, and therefore human nature.
Sidereal and Synodic Cycles
A sidereal cycle measures
a moving object in relation to a "fixed" background, and begins when the object
crosses a particular point. The
word sidereal derives
from the Latin word for star, reflecting
our perception of the star-filled heavens
as fixed. Our diurnal (daily)
cycle and yearly cycle are prime examples
of sidereal cycles.
The Sun's daily cycle is a diurnal cycle.
While a diurnal cycle is
actually one full revolution of the
Earth on its axis, we experience it
by noticing the Sun's changing relationship
to the Earth's horizon, as seen from
one place on Earth, over the course
of a day. This
relationship is reflected in the angles of
an astrological chart, which mark the
turning points of the Sun's daily cycle
through the sky, i.e., rising at the
Ascendant, culminating at the Midheaven,
setting at the Descendant, and finally
descending to the nadir,1 the
lowest point of its daily cycle.
Our yearly cycle is defined by the four seasons, which shift at the equinoxes and the solstices. While actually measuring one revolution of the Earth around the Sun, our geocentric perspective of the year is defined by the passing of the Sun through the twelve fixed sections of the ecliptic that we call the zodiacal signs. The zodiacal year begins when the Sun crosses the first degree of Aries, while the Sun entering each of the cardinal signs denotes the solstices and equinoxes, when the day/night ratio is the most extreme or most equally balanced, and thus marks the turning points of our seasons.
The Greek term synodic refers to astronomical conjunctions. The synodic cycle measures the continually changing relationship between two moving bodies.
monthly lunation cycle is a synodic
The stunning visuals of the lunation cycle clearly reveal the mutable relationship between the Sun and Moon, which Rudhyar perceived as the model for understanding all planetary aspects.
A synodic cycle begins at the conjunction and ends at the next conjunction. Thus, the New Moon, the moment of the Moon's conjunction with the Sun, begins the new cycle of activity, and the Full Moon, at their opposition, marks the half-way point.
The Structure of Cycles
All cycles, whether sidereal or synodic,
share a common structure. First,
there is a basic duality that exists
in the universe, a bipolar force
that can be referred to as yin/yang,
male/female, night/day, or waxing/
waning. This duality is inherent
in the structure of every cycle.
These two polarities exist simultaneously,
not as separate entities, but as
interrelated dynamic halves of a
whole. As the day force waxes, the
night force wanes in direct proportion,
and vice versa. This eternal interplay
of cosmic in-breathing and exhaling
is the universal dance of the cycles
Rudhyar termed the first half of any cycle involutionary, because at the beginning of any cycle there is an in-spiriting, an involvement of Spirit with matter. A new tone sounds, with its own particular qualities and characteristics, which resonates throughout the whole of that cycle. The initial impulse at the beginning of any cycle is formless, instinctual, exciting, and personalizing. During the entire first hemicycle, form slowly emerges and develops until it reaches culmination at the cycle's halfway point.
Rudhyar termed the second half of
any cycle either evolutionary or devolutionary depending
on how it develops. At its onset, the
second half of any cycle manifests
a shift in consciousness from the building
of form to the development of meaning.
If this shift is successful, evolution
occurs, bringing movement and growth
rather than exact repetition. Devolution
occurs when there is not forward development;
instead of a spiral, there is only
a circular repetition accompanied by
the disintegration of form.
Next, there is a quadrature basic to each cycle. We can refer back to the four angles of a chart, based on the four turning points in the Sun's daily cycle through the sky, or to the turning of the four seasons. But according to Rudhyar, perhaps the clearest understanding of the meaning of the quadrature of cycles comes from the stunning visuals and astronomical understanding of the monthly lunation cycle
Referring back to the archetypal universal dualities, the Sun represents the constant, masculine polarity, and the moon the mysterious, changeable feminine.2 The Sun symbolizes Spirit, so divine and beyond our human capacity to comprehend that we literally go blind if we stare directly at it. The Moon is the intermediary between Earth and Sun, humanity and Spirit. Recognizing that the lunation cycle reflects the soli-lunar relationship as seen from Earth, the Moon through her phases reflects the Sun’s light in a digestible way that won’t blind us.
Just as in the daily and yearly cycles, there are four key turning points in the lunation cycle. They occur at the New Moon (conjunction) when the Moon is totally dark and mysterious, the First Quarter Square when the Moon appears to be sliced in half by a knife, the Full Moon (opposition) as the Moon majestically reflects back the full solar disk, and the Last Quarter Square, when the Moon again appears slashed in half, but with the opposite side missing. These are the phases when the Moon holds the most distinctive shapes in the sky. (See The Phase Mandala)
The actual conjunction of the luminaries
is the moment of the in-spiriting of
the new cycle, when the tone for that
cycle is sounded. At the New Moon,
the Moon is between the Earth and Sun
and is invisible as she rises and sets
with the Sun. (See Synodic
The First Quarter Square marks the
Moon's crossing of the Earth's orbit,
outward towards the planet Mars, and
therefore represents a reorientation
that calls for action. At the Full
Moon, the Earth is at its furthest
from the Sun (and opposite the point
of conjunction). This ending of the
first half of the cycle represents
the time of the fullness of form. Here's
where a critical shift occurs away
from the building of form and toward
the development of greater understanding
and deeper meaning.
The Last Quarter Square occurs when the Moon once again crosses the Earth's orbit, this time moving inward toward the planet Venus, indicating the challenge of a major reevaluation. The cycle then ends at the next conjunction, and simultaneously a new cycle begins.3
The tone or quality of that next beginning
relies on the "success" of the
previous cycle. Was understanding achieved
during the second half of the cycle,
or simply a breaking down of the form?
Was this an evolutionary or devolutionary
We now have an astrological understanding
of the significance of the four cardinal
points in any cycle, with any number
of phases. Therefore, in the twelve-fold
cycles of the zodiacal signs or the
houses of a chart, the Cardinal signs
and Angular houses will hold the most
potency because of their position within
their respective cycles. And in the
geometry of planetary aspects, we can
now understand that the squares and
oppositions are considered challenging
because they represent an archetype
of change based on the astronomical
structure of the lunation cycle.
From Rudhyar's point of view, one cycle can be overlaid onto any other cycle, and regardless of the number of phases, corresponding points will have the same intrinsic meaning. Therefore, the Full Moon or halfway point in the eight-phase lunation cycle has a similar meaning to the Descendant (halfway around the twelve houses) or to the sign Libra (halfway through the twelve signs).
Planetary Aspects and Phase Relationships
Rudhyar's perspective offers a deeper
comprehension of all planetary aspects.
We understand the significant difference
in meaning between the waxing and waning
half of a cycle. Except for the conjunction
and opposition, there are two of each
type of aspect in every cycle.
Therefore a waxing Sun-Jupiter trine
in a birth chart has an intrinsically
different meaning that a waning one.
Likewise, the cosmic imprint on a person
who is born just before a New Moon,
in the Balsamic Phase, is radically
different from someone born just after
the New Moon, in the New Phase.
From Rudhyar's perspective, while only certain planets are actually ever in aspect to each other at any particular moment in time, every planet is always in
a phase relationship to every other
planet. In order to identify the phase
relationship of any two planets, think
of the slower moving planet as stationary,
and see how many degrees ahead of that
point the faster moving planet is.
If Venus (the faster moving planet)
is 287° ahead of Mars, then these two planets are in the Last Quarter Square phase. This understanding of any planetary pair can be extremely informative.
The Cycles of Life
Rudhyar viewed life itself as a continual process of development composed of a series of interwoven astrological cycles. The birth chart is not a static entity; it represents a dynamic flow operating through time. It's not unlike a photograph of a person dancing. Implied in that photo are the steps leading up to the captured moment, as well as the continuation of the dance thereafter.
There are several methods of understanding the unfolding of a life through time. The most primary is Rudhyar's pioneering use of the 30-year Progressed Lunation Cycle, which follows the relationship of the progressed Moon to the progressed Sun throughout the life. This cycle differentiates the developmental stages of people close to the same age, offering insight into the structure unique to each particular life.
As an overlay to this cycle, planetary transits are used to measure events unfolding through objective time and secondary progressions to indicate the inner development through what Rudhyar called subjective duration.
However, any planetary event must be understood in terms of where it falls within the structure of the Progressed Lunation Cycle. For example, the first Saturn return would have a very different meaning for someone experiencing it at the progressed First Quarter Square than if it occurred at the progressed Waning Cycle.
In Closing, from Rudhyar...
is not merely a study of celestial
cycles in themselves; it is a technique
of interpretation of the meaning of
these cycles with reference to the
possibilities for growth in individuals...Its
essential purpose—when true to
its highest and truest function in
human affairs—is to indicate
the possibilities for individual development
inherent in the significant turning
points in the cycle of a human life."
From The Lunation Cycle