How to understand Vedic Astrology
It is a historical fact that ancient systems of astrology developed through observation of phenomena against the backdrop of constellations and the stars. At the turn of the first millennium, when the sidereal zodiac and seasonal solar months were broadly coincident, Greek astrologers decided to adopt the seasonal solar months of the year (previously reserved for calendrical purposes) for astrology. Since then, this developed into its own system of astrology that is commonly practised today by the majority of Western astrologers.
In India, the original sidereal-based systems of astrology continued and evolved into what is known as Jyotish or Vedic astrology today. The term “Vedic” refers to the source sacred texts known as the “Vedas”. While there are no explicit astrology charts in the Vedas, the underlying philosophies and concepts underpinning Vedic astrology are derived from these texts.
The Vedic traditions of ancient India and surrounding regions are quite different from modern day India. For these reasons, this system of astrology is appropriately termed Vedic astrology (as opposed to Indian astrology, which would not be correct).
In the last two decades, there has been considerable interest in Vedic astrology by the Western astrological community. However, this has had the inevitable and unfortunate consequence of the appropriation of improperly understood Vedic astrology concepts and terminology becoming prevalent. It is my aim, in this article, to present some key fundamental concepts in Vedic astrology so you can gain some understanding of the differences between Vedic and Western astrology.
The sidereal zodiac
Oral traditions of Vedic astrology in India have used the sidereal zodiac for centuries. The tropical zodiac is used in Vedic astrology, to supplement analysis of seasonal effects such as the weather and agricultural outcomes. The sidereal zodiac is reserved for the study of life, as it is believed that souls descend into matter through stellar gateways, therefore to study that life wholly, a stellar paradigm is most suitable. The sidereal zodiac is created with a specified fixed star as a reference point, with the 12 signs given equal 30° increments of space therefrom.
There are different reasons for choosing which star to create the sidereal zodiac with. For the purposes of the study of human life, the star Chitra (Spica) is used. There are a couple of reasons why. Chitra is the primary star in the Virgo constellation, the only “feminine” among the zodiacal constellations. By using this star as a basis for the sidereal zodiac, we acknowledge the necessity and role of the Divine Feminine in creating and manifesting life.
The symbol for this star is a mirror, therefore by creating a sidereal zodiac from this star, we acknowledge the relativistic duality of life as we peer into a map of karmic projections in order to understand it better. Taking this star of Virgo constellation as 0°, sidereal Libra sign brings these concepts neatly together: Feminine, creation, projection, relativity. Without relativity, there is no karma. So, in order to view the karmic map, a zodiac created with these concepts in mind is most useful and appropriate.
The Sanskrit word for an astrological sign is rasi. One of its meanings is a fixed/stable/equal quantity, which is referring to both a fixed quantum of space as well as indicating that the nature of the space is fixed. The aim when creating the sidereal zodiac is not about finding a truly inertial reference frame, rather it is about the proper selection of the reference star from which to create the zodiac belt as a string of defined portions or rasi.
Since the sidereal zodiac is situated lightyears out into space, the planets of our solar system are therefore considered to be celestial bodies causing grahana (blocking/eclipsing) of the starlight emanating from the signs, thereby trapping the soul to karmic effects as it descends, conditioning the mind and affecting the body. The planets are therefore called graha (grabbers) in Vedic astrology.
The Sun and sun signs
All astrology originated with the observation of the stars and the planetary movements in the night sky, meaning ancient forms of astrology were sidereal in nature. We are essentially intimately connected with the starry sky. Scientifically, we now know that every resource or material element has originated in space. Our daily and yearly time cycles are nothing but dynamics in our awareness due to the spatial relationship between the Earth and its closest star, our physical sun.
A growing field of Cosmobiology is the understanding of the link of natural biological systems with the stars. There is a lot we are still learning about our connection to our neighbourhood.
One meaning of the word rasi, or signs, is an indication of an “accumulation of something”. The Vedic paradigm follows the theory of transmigration of souls (ie. beings have descended into the various localised solar system via stellar gateways for evolutionary experiences). Since the descent of the soul has happened through stellar gateways, the stars are lights indicating the various karma “packets” or “quanta”. The sidereal signs therefore are conceived of as holding or indicating the accumulation of karma or action-reaction dynamics coincident with that descent. The planets are simply functions that trigger these as experiences with respect to time.
We can liken the 12 signs as a physical body, which also accumulates and holds food substance within it. The body also has energy and vitality, and there is an animation to the body that is operated by the power of will. So there must be some way to denote that. What is enlivening the karma? What dictates the direction of the willpower that animates the karma?
We also understand that the power animating the physical body is an indication of the individual or the self seemingly within the body. Therefore, the energy that is activating the karma of the signs also gives an indication of the nature of the self behind the karma, its intentions and priorities for how the material energy covering it is directed through life.
Instead of being seasonally derived as they are in Western tropical astrology, the sidereal zodiac signs used in Vedic astrology are representative of natural and universal processes. For example, Cancer represents the lakes and flowing rivers of the world and where they meet the ocean. Aquarius represents very remote or sparsely inhabited areas such as the very high mountain peaks of the world. These two signs have a natural connection to each other in that the rain falls down upon these mountain peaks and flows into the rivers towards the ocean. Therefore, the Cancer-Aquarius link tells us how the water cycle occurs on earth.
Simultaneously, the archetypal connection between them is established. Aquarius represents those with very specialist or expert knowledge, while its connection to Cancer shows the flow of knowledge to the valleys where common people reside. Aquarius as the remote mountain peaks reflects the fact that the pursuit of high knowledge can be a solitary and isolationist journey, going where few have gone before. Whereas the Cancer connection reminds us of the need for compassion to bring down that knowledge to be understood and made of use to the common person. The sidereal zodiac and its conceptions in Vedic astrology do not need to be aligned to the seasons, but they are very much aligned to other important concepts in nature and universal principles.
The 12 forms of the Sun
In Vedic astrology, the energy that is activating, enlivening and directing the static karma accumulated in the signs is called Aditya. There are 12 Aditya; 12 forms of the Sun as it appears to transit through space. For example, Parjanya Aditya activates and directs the transformation of karma contained in Scorpio. There are mantras and other magical procedures to connect with these Aditya, which give us the knowledge of how to best deal with the material karma of the signs. This is important because it’s not helpful to just know that you’re going to have a tough time at work in the next two years, it is helpful to receive the knowledge about how to optimise or better that situation, as well as receive the energy and willpower to carry that out efficiently.
I am using the English names of the zodiac signs so that it is easier to follow. But do bear in mind that in Vedic astrology, the terminology is quite different. Here is a short list of associations of each Aditya.
The full set of techniques of using Aditya in assessing the energy level, willpower and direction of life is one of the first topics studied in traditional Vedic astrology.
Other important associations of the Sun
Now we can move on to discuss one other important aspect of the Sun, its connection to time.
During its diurnal motion from sunrise to culmination and sunset each day, the Sun appears to travel in a reverse manner through the astrological houses. This motion of the Sun causes pronounced temperature changes in the world, especially when it transits three houses: the 1st House, the 9th House and the 5th House.
The Sun transiting the 1st House indicates the first appreciable temperature change of the day as the Sun heats up the world of the local horizon, overcoming the cold inertia of night. This is resonant with archetypal Aries, traditionally where the Sun is exalted (literally, rising up). The solar transit through the 9th House marks the time of day exhibiting the highest radiation (the archetypal “fire arrows” of Sagittarius). Finally, in the 5th House where the Sun goes to its archetypal home Leo, the energy and heat of the day finally gives way to the overcoming cold of the night. These three houses therefore strongly resonate with the solar pulse as primary places of temperature, and therefore, activity changes throughout the day.
We also know that the spatial relationship between Earth rotating on its axis with respect to the Sun gives us the perception of a day. The spatial relationship of the Earth in its orbit around the Sun gives us the perception of a year. So, the Sun, as an archetype, has a major signification of our experience of time. This is why, in Vedic astrology, the houses that resonant with solar energy signify the past (9th House), the present (1st House), and the future (5th House). Thus, the 9th House shows our forefathers, the 1st House shows ourself, and the 5th House shows our children.
The Sun is also the light of the consciousness. Applying similar associations, the 9th House shows that portion of our awareness resolving and accessing the past, the 1st House shows how present we are, which has a major influence on how we make decisions, and the 5th House shows how we envision ourselves in the future.
Chandra: The Moon
The Moon in Jyotish, as in many other astrology systems, represents our connection to life. While we received the life energy from the Sun via the father, it is our mothers who received that intent and provided a container of flesh and blood for it. In Jyotish, the Moon represents the blood and all our blood relations in general, the most significant of which (and the first) being that special blood connection to the mother.
In the astrological sign of Cancer, we see the tidal push and pull of the exchange of blood in the womb; receiving nutrient-rich blood and the removal of wastes via the blood as well. The moving waters of Cancer represent the duality of this blood exchange with the mother in the darkness and sanctity of the womb. Here we received the body with its inherent ability to replace old cells and heal.
This constant flowing in and out principle of Cancer in the womb is essential for the life of the body, just as the very same push and pull flow is essential for the health of the mind. The Moon in Jyotish therefore best shows the mind-body connection in its flowing or animated aspect. It shows how we move and flow through life based upon our subjective preferences.
The Moon is exalted in the sign of Taurus (ruled by Venus) and is debilitated in the sign of Scorpio (ruled by Mars). As a result, Moon-Venus combinations indicate high-pressure and immune diseases, while Moon-Mars combinations indicate low-pressure and loss of blood. In Jyotish, the Moon-Mars and Moon-Venus connection in the chart tell us a great deal of information about the in-built health dynamics of the physical body, as well as the flow potential of the mind. Mars, the controller of fire, is not welcome in association with the cooling waters of the Moon (mind). Tense afflictions between the two can indicate mania and schizophrenia. Saturn in its rulership of Aquarius shows the slowing down of the mind, and tense connections between Saturn and the Moon can indicate deterioration of memory that could result in Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Jyotish recognises the deep connection between food and the quality of the flow of the mind. This is because the Moon is exalted in the sign of Taurus, the natural 2nd House of the zodiac related to ingestion of food into the physical body. The 2nd House is also the face in Jyotish, because it is from here all sensory stimuli are centralised and ingested by the mind-body connection. Sensory hedonism is what gives the mind and heart its peak delights, the Moon is exalted in this area of activity.
The flow of the mind
Though we can now understand the priority of the Moon to flow, there are some restrictions to this flow. This manifests at a chakra level as well, and in psychology in Jyotish this plays a great role. The Moon functions best when there are no planets in the same sign as it, because these planets and their agenda tend to “sit on the mind” a lot, forming a subjective bias override, restricting the full free-flow of the mind through life.
The Moon also functions better if there are planets in adjacent signs to where it is placed. A happy Moon is one that has made connections in the past (planets in the sign before the Moon) and that will make connections in the future (planets in the sign after the Moon). A Moon that doesn’t have any planets on either side of it can be quite isolationist and even lonely, making it difficult for such a person to connect with society and people. Even in a crowd, they can still feel disconnected or spaced out.\
How “plugged in” are you?
One of the main indicators of someone living a worldly life is the level of involvement in all the relationships in their life, be it working relationships, familial connections, intimate relationships etc. While we can accept the fact that we are individuals existing in the world, no person is an island. It is through the myriad relationships, memories, and experiences we have with people in our life that enriches our evolutionary path.
Traditionally, the four angular houses of self (1st House), home (4th House), significant others (7th House), and work/public life (10th House) were said to “root” us into the world in a very material way. These four houses are like the stakes of a pitched tent — our soul being the traveller residing within for a short time before moving onward. The Moon represents our connection to community and this is strongest in these four areas of life. When the Moon is in these angular houses, the person is said to be strongly “plugged into” the material game of life.
The Moon in cadent houses (3rd, 6th, 9th and 12th Houses) by comparison is usually a receiver of influences, and a great-responder archetype. These people are generally more plugged into a spiritual or non-material focus of life.
The Moon is therefore our connection to life, our spiritual and material plug alternating with each other in the see-saw dynamic of duality. In this way, Jyotish assesses the flow capacity and healing capacity of the mind-body system, pointing out issues to be remedied in its flow, and strengthening bonds of delight for the mind to flow ever forward, receiving the intention of the soul Sun on its evolutionary journey.
Nodes of the Moon
So far we have introduced one meaning of the word rasi: a fixed quantum of space bounding a sidereal zodiacal sign. Let us now consider a deeper meaning of this Sanskrit word. The word rasi is made up of two sounds ra and si, which refer to Rahu and Sikhi1 respectively. Rahu is the North Node of the Moon, and Sikhi is the South Node of the Moon. Since the nodes of the Moon are mainly destructive in nature, they have the power or responsibility of destroying the sidereal zodiac2. Rahu destroys the binding quality of akasa (space) that holds the rasi together in place, while Sikhi destroys the stars that are the energy behind the rasi. Therefore, the joining of the nodes (joining of their names) that is rasi indicates that there is constant tension of the signs and stars against the operation of the nodes that are constantly intending their dissolution.
Rāhu: North Node
Since the zodiac signs indicate all created things, Rahu is an agent of cosmic turbulence (or mental disturbance) that destroys the stable perceptive ability of the mind to focus, understand and harmoniously associate with life. It is the root of selfishness and the reason for the descent of the soul.
Since we have descended from stellar gateways, Sikhi is an agent of detachment or rejection, a cosmic agency of disassociation that cuts through everything binding us in the embodied state. Therefore, Sikhi shows the path of evolution back to Source, whereas Rahu shows the path of more material entanglement. They both represent extreme behaviours or dynamics of the mind (Moon). Their joining is the delicate balance of space and attachment (rasi) through which the mind (Moon) perceives and creates the subjective reality of experience.
Rahu is the ceaseless consumer, the disembodied head of the snake, devouring all things created by the power of the rasi. Just as the rasi, as portions of the stellar sky, indicate literally the source of all material resources on earth, Rahu is ever-ravenous to consume and deny these resources for others. It represents the unbridled scientist without a care for ethics, the mafia boss wholly consumed by acquisitiveness, the Big Pharma business person who hoards more than they need. In whatever rasi Rahu is placed, therein it works to selfishly consume the resources of that rasi, denying access to such resources to other graha it is placed with, and its dispositor just so.
Rahu works to keep the soul caught in the cycle of reincarnation because it is the part of the mind always looking outward and which is acquisitive in nature. It represents that point of peak material attraction and increase that lures the mind to bind with matter. While Rahu may indicate a path of evolution through matter, the risk of further being bound by the cosmic inertia is equally heightened as it partakes of a cycle of consumption and possessiveness difficult to escape. It is the proverbial apple of the snake of Eden.
Śikhi: Ketu or South Node
Sikhi is responsible for the cutting away of the soul from the stellar influences themselves. It therefore has a dual role. Firstly, while the embodied soul is engrossed in material cares, Sikhi indicates mistakes and blindspots in our vision, as the rays of Sikhi remove countless Suns (stars) from the celestial sky. For such a person, Sikhi brings non-attainment of material goals and dissatisfaction and doubts about what one has. In addtion, when the embodied soul is ready for its journey back to Source and is ready to connect with deeper soul reflections over its material ones, Sikhi will indicate the steps to the evolutionary path of the soul out of matter and back to Spirit.
Sikhi is the part of the mind always looking inward, always rejecting external material connections, always seeking the source of the soul’s being before the descent of the soul began down stellar gateways. It is cosmic memory of the time before descent. Whatever constellational reference Sikhi is placed in, it is the place in the chart where there is precious little material satisfaction and material quantity, it is where the mind naturally struggles to connect with material life, or the platform from which the mind seeks the soul.
The protectors of Rāśi
Rahu and Sikhi represent challenges and extremes in how the mind (Moon) relates to life. Rahu selfishly consumes the resources and energy of a rasi and Sikhi seeks to undermine the feeling and connection to material things in life. The Luminaries (the Sun and the Moon) are the Great Protectors against the operation of Rahu and Sikhi, respectively. The Sun ensures the rasi have enough energy, vitality and resources. The Moon ensures there is enough flow of feeling to want to connect with material life and relationships.