The Moon and Moon phases have significant relevance to life here on earth. It’s gravity affects our oceans creating tides, and influences reproductive life cycles, migration and navigation for a number of life forms on both land and in the sea. There is also anecdotal evidence of the effect of the Moon on humans for example psychological behaviour at the full Moon, and women’s menses being intermittently synchronous with lunar phases. Many different cultures over the centuries have relied on the lunar cycle for timing, agricultural practices, and for divination and magick.
An awareness of the Moon and it’s phases has always been an important part of astrology too. In traditional astrology the Moon signifies (amongst other things) fate and fortune, flux and change, nurture, the body, and the material environment we engage with. It was considered the celestial partner to the Sun which embodies our spiritual light and consciousness.
“Wherefore we ought to know that the Moon takes up the body of man and that it is deputed to the Moon in terms of powers…Thus the whole substance of the earthly body is governed by the providence of this divine power”.Firmicus Maternus (2023), p. 254
Therefore the phase of the Moon in a birth chart, i.e. it’s aspectual relationship to the Sun, from a Hellenistic astrological perspective, serves as an indicator for the expression of the relationship and dynamic between our spirit and our material circumstances.
DIVISIONS OF THE LUNAR CYCLE
In today’s astrological practice the Moon’s monthly cycle is commonly divided into four main and four intermediate phases. These Moon phases were expressed and made popular by esoteric astrologer Dane Rudhyar as a psychological framework for astrology, describing eight different personality types, through his 1940’s book ‘The Lunation Cycle’. The table below lists these eight phases (‘Degree ahead of the Sun’ is measured in zodiacal order).
|Degree ahead of the Sun
|Wanning Gibbous (Disseminating)
|Last Quarter Moon
|Balsamic (Last Crescent)
The symbolism of the Moon’s waxing and waning as indicating increase or decrease, growth or decay, has remained consistent across the centuries (culturally and astrologically). Hellenistic astrologers placed great importance on examining the condition of the Moon and it’s aspects to the Sun and other planets in chart as one of the indicators of potential life condition, events and prosperity, rather than psychological indicators, and usually not in terms of a phase model in the way Rudhyar set out. The Moon’s condition in the chart provided delineations for topics such as upbringing, health, family, marriage, possessions, general flow of events, and how fortunate in general the life may be.
The earliest astrological sources point to other divisions of the lunar cycle. Second century astrologer Vettius Valens writes:
According to the physicists reasonings, there are seven phases of the Moon, but we find eleven listed elsewhereVettius Valens (2022), p. 93
Sixth century author Rhetorius (who drew on Valens) also notes eleven phases, although the Waning phase is omitted, and a Dark phase included as the last one. Fourth century astrologer Paul of Alexandria (Paulus Alexandrinus) also defines the Moon phases, but his list has twelve phases.
Of course, there may have been other variations used in the Hellenistic tradition which we are unaware of due to texts being lost or as yet untranslated.
In the table below I have listed the phases as described by Valens, Rhetorius and Paul, listing them side by side for easy comparison, plus diagrams for each (click the arrow to scroll through), and a separate table showing the modern eightfold cycle. These are based on the translations of Valens, Rhetorius and Paul by J.H. Holden and M.T. Riley.
I’ve kept mainly to modern terms for the phases, for ease of reference, for example using the common term ‘gibbous’ rather than the traditional ‘double convex’, and ‘quarter moon’ instead of ‘half moon’ (which referred to the moon being half lit at the quarter phase).
There are a few points to note: The degree for Waning phase isn’t explicitly stated in Valens. After listing the other ten phases he writes “There is another phase as well, when it first begins to wane.”
It would be reasonable to assume this follows the same rationale as Paul, i.e. waning begins once once the Moon has passed the opposition degree. So I have labelled this phase in the same way. Additionally, first visibility usually means when a planet is first visible after emerging from under the Sun’s beams, which occurs around 15° ahead of, or behind, the Sun.
Holden notes that in the Rhetorius text there is a sizeable lacuna and confusion in the text between the descriptions of the Full Moon and Setting phase, so he has supplied text and rearranged the tenth and eleventh phases. The table and diagram reflect this addition. No information is given regarding degree for the Dark of the Moon, and this seems a strange addition after the Setting phase at 360°. My thoughts are that this might make more sense to come before the setting phase which occurs at the last degree.
The divisions of the lunar cycle according to Valens creates mainly even and symmetrical phases covering 45 degrees, whereas the divisions according to Paul create smaller ones of 60 degrees for the majority of the phases. The phases given by Rhetorius match those of Valens, with the exception of the lack of a Waning phase, and an additional phase at 345°.
Paul’s divisions include an extra phase at the beginning, ‘Coming Forth’, a ‘Nearly Full’ phase at 150°, and no ‘Final Visibility’ or ‘Setting’ phase. There are also differences in degrees for each of the standard First Crescent, First Gibbous, Second Gibbous and Second Crescent phases.
Where Valen’s, Rhetorius’ and Paul’s phases precisely agree (as would be expected), are for the standard fourfold division of New Moon, First Quarter, Full Moon, and Second Quarter.
I think an interesting difference between the Hellenistic phases and the modern eightfold model most commonly used today, is the omission of the ‘Rising’ phase. Perhaps the relevance of this stage was lost to modern astrologers such as Rudhyar, or wasn’t considered important. In the Hellenistic tradition the emergence of a planet into it’s own light is a consideration in astrological delineation. Visibility, or lack of it, says something about a planet’s condition and how effective it can be. So I think reintroducing this phase in the assessment of a natal chart when considering the Moon phase at birth could add useful nuance and insight into the relationship between the native’s spirit and their material environment.
DELINEATING THE PHASES
THE ANALOGY OF BIRTH
Dorian Greenbaum in her article ‘Metaphors from Birth to Death in the Phases of the Moon: How Ancient Astrology Viewed the Lunar Cycle’ notes that the original Greek words used to describe the phases of New and First visibility Rising are analogous with the process of birth.
‘Coming Forth’ (in Paul’s list), is translated from the Greek ‘Genna’, meaning ‘birth’, ‘to ‘beget’, or ‘to become’. This phase is therefore likened to the birth canal, with a baby in the process of being born, but not yet visible.
Greenbaum also notes that the word used for the Rising phase, ‘Anatole’, has roots meaning to ‘come into being’, in the sense of being visible to us, like a baby which has just emerged from the the birth canal. Remember that any planet approximately 15° ahead of the Sun is considered to be emerging into it’s own light, as though being reborn. This is when we can now see the Moon in the sky, after it has been in a period of darkness.
The analogy doesn’t appear to extend to the other phases described by Paul, but Greenbaum skilfully shows how it could be applied.
Rhetorius gives instructions for interpreting the Moon phases by examining the ruler of the phase, together with the ruler’s house location, to determine general life conditions.
“It is necessary to investigate the rulers of these phases, and their houses from the Asc: for the house of the phase signifies the birth and the first age, and the ruler of the phase the second age.“Rhetorius (2009), p. 131
Paul simply defines the phases without mention of how they should be interpreted. Valens however provides topical delineations and, like Rhetorious’, these relate to the general fate and fortune of the life, but using a slightly different technique.
Valens’ delineations appear to be derived from a combination of the effect of the aspect involved, the ruler of the Moon’s phase, and an additional influence of one of the five remaining traditional planets that is assigned according to the stage of the moon’s motion (in Chaldean order).
Both Valens’ and Rhetorius’ descriptions naturally follow the Hellenistic astrological techniques normally used for natal chart analysis, namely the importance of aspects to benefics or malefics, the ruler of a planetary placement, and that ruler’s location in the chart, as being important factors in determining how topics will eventuate.
For further insight into the delineations for the Moon phases by Valens see part two which will be coming soon. To get notifications of when this may be posted, or other articles as they arrive on my blog please subscribe to my newsletter below.
Rudhyar, D. (1967) The Lunation Cycle. New Mexico: Aurora Press
Valens, V. (2022) The Anthology. Translated by M.T.Riley. Denver: Amor F
Rhetorius (2009) “Astrological Compendium”. Translated by JH Holden. Arizona, American Federation of Astrologers
Paul of Alexandra (2012) “Introduction to Astrology”. Tranlsated by JH Holden. Arizona, American Federation of Astrologers
Greenbaum, DG (2002), Metaphors from Birth to Death in the Phases of the Moon: How Ancient Astrology Viewed the Lunar Cycle . Available at: http://www.classicalastrology.org/metaphor.html (Accessed January 2024)