The Moon has many journeys within the language of astrology. The most familiar one to most of us is the journey in relationship to the Sun that is played out in the lunar phases. However, there is an even simpler cycle, a purely lunar cycle, that describes the Moon’s motion in and of itself. This cycle is that of the Moon through the stars and constellations, the Moon through the signs of the Zodiac themselves.
This version of the lunar cycle has no true starting point. One could begin at Aries, the symbolic start of the Zodiac. The sign Cancer is another viable possibility, as it is the domicile (home sign) of the Moon. Or, one could take a more visual route, noting when the Moon returns to a particular star or cluster of stars like Regulus along the ecliptic or near the Pleiades, a notable grouping of stars in the constellation of the Bull that were often associated with growing seasons in parts of Europe. Any one of these places could be a location to initiate out observation of lunar motion.
In truth, the particular starting point you choose doesn’t matter. What does is the predictable journey that the Moon will follow over the next 27 days. Technically, the 360º circle of the Moon through the Zodiac takes approximately 27.321 days, or 27 days, 7 hours, and 43 minutes. This is the equivalent of the Moon’s orbital period - the time it takes to fully move around the Earth. When we consider this version of the lunar cycle, we are engaging with the relationship between the Earth and the Moon. The lunar phase cycle adds another layer, that of the Sun.
It is this cycle that concerns us when we look at what “the personal lunar cycle.” It measures the Moon in relation to its exact location at your birth, taking those 27 or so days to complete. This means that we each get a lunar return at least once a month. The return of any planet to its location in a birth chart reaffirms the initial indications. This is a principle within astrology. Therefore, each lunar return is a chance to reaffirm our own lunar pattern and orientation. This cycle describes how we are constantly invited to come back to ourselves, to check in with our heart, our emotions, our inner world.
Lunar Mansions (Stations)
The visible movement of the Moon in its orbit has long been watched by humans. While the phases are an obvious and long-documented piece of this lunar watching, the Moon in relation to the stars is as well. In the star-lore of the ancient Mesopotamians, the Moon was an empowering force that allowed other celestial bodies to flourish and bring about their indications. To have the Moon near an asterism, constellation, or planet offered the power of the Moon was a positive sign.
The subcontinent of India also has a long tradition of following the Moon through sections of the sky known as nakshatras which are a central part of the Jyotisha astrological tradition. These divisions are mirrored in Chinese Astrology where they are called “lunar mansions.” In fact, this way of following the Moon through sets of stars exists in many different forms. Scholars currently believe that the practice can be traced back to Babylonian astronomy which originated in the 8th and 7th centuries BCE. The consistent feature in each of them is that a “mansion” is approximately equivalent to the daily average motion of the Moon. There are usually 28 divisions, close to the 27.3 days it takes the Moon to return to the same celestial location.
On the simplest level, you can recreate this practice by going out and looking for the Moon every night (or morning). It may take waking up at weird times or supplementing the sky with virtual stargazing in bad weather, but it will deepen your connection to the Moon greatly. In turn, this practice will connect you to its cyclic advance through the constellations, letting you connect sets of stars or figures with lunar experiences in the day to day. This is a great introduction to the stars themselves, if you are curious about stepping off of the ecliptic or working with a sidereal zodiac as opposed to a tropical one.
Of course, we will also be utilizing this motion through the sky to track the Moon in the zodiac signs. It takes about 2.5 days for the Moon to get through each sign on average, meaning this is a slightly more drawn out description of lunar state than the daily movement through mansions. When looking at the signs, we will be mixing the nature of the Moon with the natures of the signs. Here, what matters is how the Moon interacts with the stars themselves, following its visible daily journey through the great expanse of the sky.
Speed of the Moon
The technical lunar cycle has a few more quirks that are worth pointing out. One is that the speed of the Moon fluctuates throughout its cycle. The other is that the Moon’s latitude (the position of the Moon relative to the path of the Sun, the ecliptic) also fluctuates. Both of these fluctuations alter the expression and potential indications of the Moon. Following them can help to open up the nuances of our day to day emotional states. Being aware of them can initiate more intentional engagement with our moods, feeling, and reactions.
The speed of the Moon changes throughout its cycle (orbit) with an average of 13.2º/day. This change largely has to do with its distance from the Earth. At its apogee (furtherest distance), the Moon can get down to around 11.6º/day while it can max out near 15º around its perigee (nearest distance). The changes alter lunar influence on the Earth, so naturally there is an astrological component as well.
Lunar speed is tied into emotional response and reactivity. A quick Moon implies one who is more quick to respond. This can be incredibly helpful as fast reactions are potentially lifesaving and can help one get ahead, form conclusions, and adapt to change. A slow Moon implies one who is more patient and deliberate, waiting before reacting to a situation. This has its own advantages including less impulsive mistakes, chances to notice subtle details, and a consistency of mood. The adage “slow and steady wins the race” is helpful for understanding the Moon in its slower pace. A quicker Moon may rush ahead and react more immediately, but the consistency of the slow Moon can allow for seeing things through to the finish.
Medieval Astrologers utilized the speed of the planets (especially the Moon) in somewhat unique ways in their “inceptional” astrologies (Horary - the art of answering questions and Electional - the art of choosing dates). The Arabic astrologer Sahl writes that a slow planet “puts aside… its own promise.” Later he says that “it makes a delay… both in the good and the bad.” This shows us the nature of the slow moon, reacting with delay and bringing about its indications (promise) a bit later than usual. Ibn Ezra says that slow planets are “like an exhausted person” while quick planets are “like a young man running.” These analogies provide relatable imagery. When we are exhausted, our ability to think quickly and respond in the moment is weakened. Action is still possible, but typically not as efficiently. On the other hand, the endless energy of the youth provides constant opportunities to respond to new situations and react to evolving possibilities in the moment.
Of course, other lunar factors like aspects and sign placement can influence this expression, but as a general binary of speed, it seems to work out quite well. Many charts are right around average speed, which doesn’t offer too much in terms of interpretive principles. Instead, this technique of lunar speed is helpful if you find your chart on one of the extremes (either very fast or very slow). It is also useful for watching the Moon in its daily movements. Fast lunar periods may bring many changes for you to respond to or have you feeling a bit more touchy and reactive while slow periods may stretch out a particular mood over several days.
Tracking the speed of the Moon (and finding its speed in your own chart) can be done using an ephemeris (click here or here). For the current speed of the Moon, all you need to do is find today’s date and see how many degrees the Moon traveled from yesterday to today. For example, I am writing this on Oct 8th of 2021. The Moon began today at 8º20’ ♏︎ and ends the day at 23º01’. This is a total of 14º41’ of arc, well above average and nearing the maximum speed. (23º01’ - 8º20’ = 14º41’).
You can use this same technique to determine the speed of the Moon at your birth. Check the ephemeris for your birthday and measure the speed of the Moon that day. Remember that 13.2º is the average lunar speed and extremes occur when the Moon gets down around and below 12º or over 14º a day. If you find yourself at one of the extremes, re-read the descriptions of fast and slow moons to see if they resonate. Then, begin watching when the Moon repeats that speed (either fast or slow) and see how you feel. Notice how you feel when the Moon is at its opposite extreme too. You may find that the familiar speed is more comfortable and natural while periods with a different lunar extreme leave you a bit out of sorts and disagreeable.
Height of the Moon
The other quirk within the lunar cycle is its latitude which is astronomically named declination. This word comes from the same root as the word “decline” and refers to the numbers of degrees North or South that a planet is from the celestial equator. All planets have a declination in every moment, but they also exist in relation to another circle: the ecliptic (path of the Sun). The Sun’s visual path seems to carry it across that celestial equator, moving from a Southern extreme of 23º28’ to a Northern extreme of the same amount. These extremes mark the Solstices while the Sun equal to the celestial equator (0º) creates the Equinoxes.
Each of the planets basically travels along that same path around the Zodiac, with some fluctuations. At any given time, the planets can be further North or further South than the Sun is, creating visual height differentials between the planets. When looking at a birth chart, these heights will not be apparent, but studying a sky map or looking at the night sky itself will quickly reveal the physical separations of planetary bodies by declination.
This factor has been noticed for thousands of years, tracing back to Babylonian and Assyrian astrologies. Planets that traveled over the top of other planets (or particular stars along the ecliptic) were thought to have power over the others. This was especially relevant for the Moon which was considered the driving force in the night sky. If it passed under a planet, it would work out its bidding, but passing over it might upset and frustrate the planet below. Arabic astrologers centuries later noted the heights of the planets as signs of strength or weakness and even allowed for aspects to occur in degrees of latitude as well as in the degrees of the Zodiac.
In the last 25 years, a new concept has emerged in relation to declination and especially that of the Moon. It is a planetary state called out of bounds which occurs when a planet’s declination exceeds the solar limit of 23º28’ North or South. This state is possible for every planet besides Saturn and Neptune, although it is the Moon (and Pluto) who occupies it most frequently. The standard meaning of an out of bounds planet is the escape of typical rules, limits, and expectations that are enforced within the solar boundaries of declination. When going beyond those limits, a planet becomes free to do whatever it likes, to its benefit or detriment.
Steven Forrest lists several qualities common to those with an out of bounds Moon, citing numerous chart examples. His observations include those who are “bold, groundbreaking, genius, socially rebellious, outlaws in institutions, amoral or criminal, zany, weird, and utterly unexpected.” It would seem that the Moon in this state “socializes” differently than others, creating both incredible possibilities for new perspectives and the rejection of or the rebellion against social standards.
Many ephemerides have declination information included in them. Check your date of birth to see if you have the Moon in this state in your own chart. Noting when the Moon is out of bounds is also helpful in watching its cyclic movement. These extremes happen at what are known as the bends of the Moon. These points are like the extremes of a pendulum swing, reaching an edge before reversing and being pulled back in. The Moon yo-yos around the ecliptic, crossing it moving North and South. The two points where the solar and lunar paths cross are the North and South Nodes, where eclipses can occur.
The sidereal cycle of the Moon watches it move in its orbit around the Earth. It can observed through the Zodiac signs and through the constellations, offering interpretive value based on what the Moon is near. There are two quirks in this cycle that takes just over 27 days with the Moon traveling an average of 13º a day. One is the Moon’s speed, which oscillates from 11º to 15º a day. This change occurs because of the Moon’s apogee and perigee, its distance from the Earth. The other quirk is the Moon’s latitude, above or below the path of the Sun. Sometimes, the Moon can travel beyond the boundaries of the Sun’s path, taking it beyond the normal limits of experience.
This cycle and its nuances offer a vision of a consistent and repeating pattern of life. The Moon returns to the same location like clockwork, moving around its orbit with predictable speed changes and height alterations. It is closely linked to the internal body clock and hormonal shifts that all humans experience. You can use the factors of this lunar cycle to observe your own lunar patterns, starting from the location of your own natal Moon. Watching the actual body of the Moon in its movement reminds us that the Moon is a signifier of the body. Anything that changes the Moon can also be felt in our embodied experiences. This cycle allows us to notice how lunar change creates personal change in our individual lives.