by Dana Gerhardt
I've always been drawn to the Moon. As a beginning astrologer, I found Moon signs, aspects, and house positions far more compelling than those for any other planet. The Moon tells the juiciest stories. Our Moon remembers when we cried out in our diapers, wanting nurture, the warmth of touch, a breast or bottle of milk. It remembers what happened next, whether our needs were met and we learned our world was generous and cheerful or stingy and impatient. Aspects to the Moon describe our interpretation of mother's mothering, whether we experienced her as comforting and supportive or smothering and resentful.
The Moon was also there when we first stamped our feet and tossed our head in that special way we have. Surprised parents looked and asked if we thought we were the Queen of Sheba. Well yes, weren't we the Queen of Sheba? For the Moon's memory stretches even further back, into other lifetimes, when we picked up certain gestures, habits and expectations no one else in our family seems to have. The Moon represents a deep imprinting, physical and emotional, harboring mysteries a team of psychologists could not itemize or explain. Its reactions are instinctive and spontaneous. Its boundaries are porous, its core so sensitive, even in our elder years it can receive a cruel remark with the unprotected vulnerability of a child. The Moon remembers everything and wants only our happiness. It's the first to raise a fuss if our needs aren't getting met.
When I began talking with people about their charts, I naturally went for the Moon, asking about their childhoods, prying into old angers and recent wounds, collecting gestures, tones of voice, and other psychological clues. "Of course," my teacher said one day, "in a reading you don't immediately start talking about someone's Moon." The pained expressions of a few first clients came back to me and made new sense. Oh! The Moon is not an astrologer's dart board.
As my practice grew, I discovered not all astrologers had learned this lesson. Amy was nervous about her first session with me. Her last reading was with a prominent astrologer who'd said that with Uranus conjunct Amy's Moon, her mother hadn't wanted her, and she was destined to repeat this rejection until she dealt with her past. Amy, whose boyfriend had just broken up with her, left that reading shaken and in tears. Amy's mother may have been stressed and less than comforting when Amy was born. But over the long stretch of their relationship, the two were close companions, supporting each other's independence, and sharing many sweet and quirky Uranian traits.
Most astrology books say that anyone with a Moon-Pluto aspect must have had a horrific mother. And yet a number of my Moon-Pluto clients have complained, "Every astrologer I've seen wants to talk about my terrible mother. But frankly, my mother wasn't that bad. I love her and I don't feel traumatized." What I've learned from these and other clients is that the Moon's expression is complex. Reduce it to a simple psychological formula at your peril. It is true that over time, a few of these Moon-Pluto clients would stumble into a tear-provoking memory of helplessness under their mother's power. And while the memory released an integral piece of their own psychology, reflecting a buried need to defend against intimacy, it did not negate the rich and often supportive connections they experienced with their mom. Sometimes these lunar breakthroughs went the other way, as with my Scorpio Moon client who always felt her mother resented her, until she discovered how tenaciously her mother fought to save her life during an early childhood illness.
As a novice I thought I knew everything by knowing someone's Moon. But over time my understanding of this placement has become more like the Moon herself: It waxes and wanes. Sometimes the Moon is a potent, luminous presence. Other times, she's a cold glyph staring back from the chart with no depth or poetry. With some clients, the Moon can dominate an entire session. With others, or with the same client at another time, the Moon won't even appear. For years I've had a reputation as a Moon expert, but periodically I have to keep asking: What do I really know when I see someone's Moon? What do I know when I see my own?
The Living Moon
Vedic astrology invites us to think of the planets and luminaries as sacred living entities--as goddesses and gods. Even though I hang out with a circle of women who like to call the Moon a "goddess," I don't come to this language easily. I've never believed the orbs above hold deities like smiling marshmallow centers. I can believe in powers greater than myself. And while they may not sit at vast control boards within the planets, orchestrating all fates below, perhaps they do speak through the planets. What orbits above or appears on charts below may be like the holy statues in shrines at Hindu temples-visible messengers of a living deity. I am most intrigued by this adjective "living." It suggests to me that when I'm puzzling about the Moon, instead of opening an astrology book or consulting the night's Moon phase, I can also look for the Moon in my very own life, in my body, emotions, and moods.
I learned volumes about the Moon when I got pregnant. Surely it was the Moon who overtook my body, filling it out like a ripe fruit, nurturing the new and fluttering heartbeat inside. I knew nothing about having a baby! I read books, I watched my diet, but mostly I stood aside and watched this mystery unfold through some agency greater than myself. Once my son was born, surely it was the Moon who taught me the exquisite relief of having someone else to worry about. Overnight, self-centeredness, the constant burden of pushing forward "important" projects and shuttling from one entertainment to the next, dissolved. From the Moon, I learned the incomparable pleasure of reflecting another being's light.
But there came a time when I didn't want to be a mother anymore. I got tired of pleading with Branden to brush his teeth, wipe his nose with Kleenex, and stop tormenting the dog. I didn't want to watch "Lamb Chop" in the morning and "Barney" at night, or play with tow trucks and fire engines on the living room floor. I cringed at the sound of his sweet three-year-old voice, "Mom, will you play with me now?" I wanted to be attentive to his needs, validate his feelings, set boundaries, open possibilities, do everything the psychology books said I should, but periodically I ran dry. I lost patience and became the wicked witch.
I can see my struggle depicted in my son's birth chart. He has a Moon/Jupiter conjunction, opposite Venus, squared by Mars. I have guilty memories of enacting that Mars square. One morning in particular I had waged a long battle trying to get Branden to brush his teeth, wash his face, sit on the potty, so I could get him dressed and packed for day care. He inched so slowly down the stairs. "Let's go honey, Mommy's late for work." And then he just stood there, surveying the day. More nagging from me and a few paces further, he stopped at the flower bed and asked me (as he often did) if he could pick flowers for his day care mommy. I said we were too late today; he stamped his feet and let out a cry shrill as an ambulance siren, and I lost it. Screaming unkind words, I stalked back, grabbed a fistful of flowers and threw them at his feet.
I'm often asked by anxious moms what squares or oppositions to their child's Moon mean. "Don't worry," I want to say, "You'll find out. Watch what you do when you're hungry, hurried, angry, lonely or tired." A Moon/Jupiter/Venus/Mars t-square? There I was, Branden's impatient, adventurous, indulgent and angry mom, in a scene far worse than any from my own childhood that I've complained to a therapist about.
Enter my Moon. It's in the 12th house, square Saturn. A guilty Moon. I'm supposed to take care of others' needs, especially my son's. Or, in the more psychologically correct version: I'm supposed to take care of my needs first so that I'm always strong enough to take care of others' needs, especially my son's. But in the 12th house, I trance out of touch with my feelings. Like abandoned rabid dogs, they lunge, snarling and biting at anyone near. This begins my Moon/Saturn mantra: "I am not good enough, I am not good enough." A 12th house Moon is a caretaking Moon; it is a hungry, victim Moon. It colludes with my 11th house Cancer South Node and says: Serve others before you serve yourself, then break down like a child.
Enter Branden's lunar nodes. His 1st house North Node points towards developing self reliance and independence, while his 7th house South Node clings, at times draining vital energy from the others he can't be without. Rebalancing self and other is his soul's mission. He's got a lifetime to work on it. So of course I knew it was not his most important project as a toddler. But many times I ventured, "Branden, can you play with your stuffed bears tonight instead?" "They are not people," his 7th house South Node would cry.
Round and round I went, until one morning, the image of the Moon, its reflective light, parceled in phases, from dark to full to dark again came as a message. The Moon receives and holds the light of the Sun, as a mother receives and contains the world of the child. But the Moon goes through phases and so do moms: We can't receive all the time! What the psychologists omit, or pay thin lip service to, the Moon remembers, the Moon enacts. When the Moon is fully illuminated, it demonstrates the height of our reflective powers-our capacity to listen and intuit another's moods and needs. Nights when the Moon is dark teach the necessity of pulling back and shutting down. The inner Moon must likewise make her parched return to the well, shaking off the light of her life's many Suns. Neglect these cycles, however, and the inner Moon will take her revenge.
That's how it is with living gods. They fight, they play, they cheat, they lie, they love, they hate; in short, they live. A key difference between polytheism, the "many living gods" concept, and our more familiar western monotheism, which gives us one supreme Father, is that when there are many gods, the deities get to have both good and bad qualities. Check out the myths of any indigenous people and you'll find their gods have and do it all. But when there's just one God, he's not allowed any darkness or evil. What's bad is cast out, like that devil Lucifer, fallen from the bosom of our one Christian God. As above so below: When we don't allow our gods any fallibility, we likewise won't admit it in ourselves.
This expectation of perfection runs deeps, and it profoundly shapes our thinking. It gives us internal pictures of perfect Moon mothers, "on" all the time. With each new child-developmental theory, a mother acquires new expectations of perfection, now nurturing this, refraining from that, as though there were nothing else in her life to worry about. Perhaps this is the real source of mother rage, and why our fairy tales are filled with so many wicked stepmothers and so few smiling real ones. Of course I believed that mom was responsible for all my problems until I became a mother. Now I wonder: Where is the psychological theory that instructs mothers to listen to their inner Moons? I once heard Anne Wilson Schaef describe an aboriginal tribe that approached its mothering in a more polytheistic spirit. Each child had many mothers; all the women in the tribe shared the nurturing role. That meant any mother was free, in fact encouraged, to go on a "walkabout" when the spirits spoke and told her to withdraw and be alone.
We're a solar people. The notion that we can or should be present all the time is a particularly solar one, for the Sun is always full and shining. We bring this expectation to work and into all our relationships, especially our loves. Here too our disavowed Moons may seek revenge. When I'm in relationship with another, my emotional nature is reflective, reactive, and changing. Yet it can't be said too often: One cannot receive all the time. Even if I secretly know this about me, I will consistently forget it about you. And forgetting this means falling into the perfect mother archetype. If I'm angry because my partner isn't meeting my needs, I'm demanding my perfect mother, and my inner Moon has transformed me into a dependent child. This is one of the lessons of John Gray's milestone book, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. Intimate relationships are subject to emotional cycles, Gray teaches. Men retreat emotionally to renew themselves, women rise and fall in a cycle of emotional highs and lows. Acknowledging this is how we can receive and nurture ourselves-and steer clear of the perfect mother trap. The only thing Gray got wrong is that these cycles aren't rhythms of Venus or Mars. It's what happens when two Moons are involved.
In a solar return, horary, or event chart, we read the Moon's house as an area of changeability. But how do we honor this changeability in a natal chart? What really do I know when I see your Moon? What do I know when I see my own? I should know that you and I are fluid and changeable, reflecting, reacting, and withdrawing, cycling from dark to full to dark again. This is deeply meaningful information, a profound clue to the swing and dance of life. It's why Lord Siva, the Hindu god of destruction and creation, honors the Moon by wearing the lunar crescent on his crown. The Moon teaches that we exist in relationship-to ourselves as well as others-by gaining consciousness and losing it, by cycling in and out of light. This is true for men and women. Everyone has a Moon! But when I was the mother of a toddler, I searched in vain for the psychological theory that would help me teach this cycle of intimacy to my son, how to pull away and return, so he could learn this was natural and desirable, so that twenty years hence, he wouldn't lose the thread to his own emotions and shut down, or periodically hate the woman he loves, because he was first so disappointed in his mom.
When Moon Meets Moon
Astrologers presume that when two people have compatible Moons, or flowing aspects between one's Moon and another's planets, this will be a comfortable relationship, with plenty of shared sympathies and intuitive understanding. The Moon describes what we want from family life and the way we like to be at home. Venus and Mars hold the passion in a relationship. But for day-to-day compatibility-whether we like to hang up our clothes or leave them in scattered piles on the floor-this is the province of the Moon. When Moons are compatible, people say things like "I've always felt so at home with Bob" or "The minute I met Janine, it's like we'd known each other forever."
If only the relationship stayed that way! The longer we're together, the more time we have to discover each Moon's secret hallways and trapdoors, so that what once was familiar and attractive can become irritating and strange. I've had three relationships with men whose charts had a common lunar signature. One had a Virgo Moon, the others 6th house Moons. I have a Virgo Ascendant; the attraction is understandable. A man will often seek a woman to embody the traits of his inner Moon. My men initially loved the way I did Virgo, smart and organized, health-conscious, analytical, and self-possessed. What a miracle it was to realize we agreed on everything. We were so alike! But in each relationship, it wasn't long before I found myself being accused of bad behavior. They said I was judgmental, picky, and unsupportive, all shadow Virgo traits. In my twenties, with my first husband, this was probably a fair complaint. I was only my Ascendant then. During the ten years of my next relationship, with the help of a mountain of books and a couple of therapists, I worked earnestly to whittle this mask away. I learned that men didn't like to be criticized (Oh!). I developed new tolerance and patience. I dialed up the fun of my Leo Moon and reveled in the adventurousness of my Sagittarius Sun. When I entered the next relationship I was thrilled to finally be a different woman. But four months into our love affair, on one dark and very long night, I heard those familiar words: "I think you're judgmental, critical and negating." I was floored.
A friend of mine has a saying: "If ten men say you're drunk, lay down." Perhaps, despite the prior ten years of inner and outer work, I was still nothing more than my critical Virgo Ascendant. But strangely, each time this accusation was hurled, I felt that my critical, judgmental lover was negating me! So who was doing the Virgo really? And why did I keep attracting men with this sensitivity? Was it my own 12th house Moon, opposite the 6th, inviting me to play a familiar role as victim, reciting its treasured "Why do they all crucify me" script? When Moon meets Moon, it's like walking in a house of mirrors!
What really happens when one Moon shines into the dark emotional waters of another? When I look at you, do I see your Moon or mine? When one reflection meets another, we get an optical illusion called "projection." What I see in you may actually be something I don't see in myself. This ambiguity is threaded into our astrological symbolism. A man's Moon, for example, is said to describe his emotions, as well as his mother and his wife. Not being a man, I'm ill-equipped to fully sort this out, but even a woman's Moon has a dual role, describing both her feelings and her mother. Most days I feel as unlike my mother as an orange to a tomato, so how can my Moon be both of us? And why is my Moon different from my sister's, when the same woman was our mother?
I have a Leo Moon and I tend to describe my mom in Leo terms. I see her as an artist, an actress, a narcissist, a child. With my Moon in the 12th house of spirits, I acknowledge my mother as the one who taught me about fairies and magic and all things spiritual-as well as victim scripts and blurred emotional boundaries. My sister has a Capricorn Moon. She describes my mother in Capricorn terms, as a dictator and career woman, ambitious, withholding, and cold. My sister's Moon is in the 3rd house of communication. She considers my mother overly talkative, full of ideas and promises, but ultimately unstable. Each of out charts reflects a different aspect of my mother's chart. My 12th house Moon reflects my mother's Moon sign, Pisces. My sister's Capricorn Moon reflects my mother's Capricorn Ascendant.
New age philosophers like to say we choose our parents. Maybe there was a trip to a giant shopping mall in the upper worlds (about which we might wonder, "What were we thinking?!"). A more pragmatic explanation may be point of view. When we look at our parents, we select the details that corroborate our expectations; the rest we minimize. So we "choose" our parents through our planetary filters; in essence, we create them by what we choose to believe about them. My mother suffered from post-partum depression when my sister was born, which is consistent with the Capricorn tone of my sister's Moon. But my mother complains that as a baby, my sister was cold and distant, never smiled at her, and never seemed to like her since the day she was born. Each claims only to have reacted to the other's first move. I, on the other hand, with my more expressive Leo Moon, was a warmer, more loving child, or so my mother claims. And unlike my sister, I can remember my mother often being encouraging and creative. Was her Moon reflected in my waters, or mine in hers?
The Moon is memory, container of our past. But it is also porous, reactive and changeable. After my last Virgo Moon man, I entered a relationship with a 10th house Aquarius Moon (opposite my Leo). What a relief! No longer was I "judgmental" and "picky." After the gauzy veil of romance wore thin, we were trading insults like "You're such a narcissist" and "You're always working. You never have time for me." It took a few years for our respective Moons to throw tantrums and negotiate the territory, but now each is quite at home with the other, and not at all the same Moon as was with our prior partners.
If the Moon describes our habitual and changing emotional life, plus the traits of our mothers and partners, there can be no astrology text capable of summing it all. That is why, when practicing astrology, before saying much about someone's Moon, you should wait for the Moon to rise in the reading of its own accord. In fact, you should make your deepest study of your own Moon, so you can keep its neediness and projections out of the way. Then your Moon can do what it does best: listen, reflect, intuit and nourish the radiant Sun in front of you.