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Rahu and Ketu - the Offensive and Defensive Army

"Our doubts are traitors, And make us loose the good we oft might win, By fearing to attempt.”

William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure. 

Uncertainty and inexperience are a part of human existence. We all have particular areas of our lives which we find harder to grasp and find success in than others. In Jyotish, this is rooted in our past life karma, of which much detail can be understood from examining the positions of Rahu and Ketu in the birth chart, which are the North and South Nodes of the Moon.

The lunar nodes are the two points where the Moon’s orbit crosses the ecliptic of the Sun. The Moon’s orbit is inclined approximately five degrees from the ecliptic, which results in two opposite points where both paths intersect. The point of intersection made as the Moon moves towards the Northern hemisphere is the North Node, also known as the ascending node. The South Node is the point where the Moon intersects the ecliptic as its orbit moves towards the Southern Hemisphere, also known as the descending node. 

The Cycle of the Lunar Nodes

The Moon’s orbit has an 18.6 year cycle, and consequently as do the Lunar Nodes. Over the course of this cycle, the point where the Moon cross the ecliptic gradually moves Westwards. In astrological measurements, this means the lunar nodes are observed to move backwards through the zodiac, taking approximately 18 months to pass through each sign. This means that every 18 or so years, a person will experience their nodal return, when the Lunar Nodes arrive at the same position at the time of the person’s birth. This amplifies the experiences and issues highlighted by the nodes in the birth chart.

The Head and Tail of the Dragon

In traditional astrology, The North Node is called the Head of the Dragon, whilst the South Node is known as the Tail. William Lilly and the 8th century Persian astrology Abū Ma’shar say that the Head of the dragon has a fortunate and an increasing effect, so if it is in conjunction with a benefic planet, it will increase the good, but if it is with a malefic planet it will increase the bad. The Tail of the Dragon has a decreasing effect, and can take away the bad influence of a bad planet, but likewise it can also take away the good influence of a good planet. 

So it’s important to note that whilst they are not planets, they are still Grahas in Jyotish terms, just like the rest of the planets. Therefore they are just as important to consider in a horoscope.

The Creation Rahu and Ketu

The Hindu myth of Rahu and Ketu provides a wonderful basis of understanding their meaning. Rahu and Ketu also appear in the story of Saturn as Kurma the tortoise. Once apon a time, the Devas and the Asuras were trawling the ocean to find the nectar of immortality. Mohini, who is said to have been the most beautiful woman in the universe, appears from the waters with the Amrita, the nectar. She began to serve out the nectar and started with the Devas first. The Asuras were fine with this, because they were in awe of her beauty, but unbeknownst to them, there wouldn’t be enough nectar for everyone. A sneaky Asrua, named Svarbhanu, hid between two Devas and was lucky enough to receive a drop of the Amrita. However, the Sun and the Moon realised that he was an Asura in disguise! Quickly, Vishnu with his discuss separated Svarbhanu's head from his body. However Svarbhanu was immortal, so he did not die, and his head became known as Rahu and his body Ketu. 

This story starts us off with the important clue that Rahu and Ketu are one immortal demon body. Considering them as a pair instead of two separate Grahas is important. 

Let’s take a look at what their names mean. 

Rahu is Obscured

In Sanskrit, the word Rahu is used to mean an eclipse, obscured or darkened. It brings pain, suffering and difficulty to the part of the chart where it is positioned. Wherever Rahu falls in our chart is where we are literally in the dark, where we lack experience and understanding, but our aim in life is to work through these particular problems even if we end up failing miserably. Rahu represents the offensive army that conquers news lands for personal growth. 

Ketu is the flag and is smoky

Ketu on the other hand means banner or flag. It lies opposite to Rahu and represents what we have already accomplished and developed in our previous lives. It is often described like a castle, as it is our sense of security being the defensive army. Ketu also has another name, Dhuma, which means “smoky”. This implies that there is an illusion within this security, because the aim of Ketu is to be liberated but this can only happen if one develops the side of the life impacted by Rahu.

Rahu and Ketu are a Pair

As I’ve already said, Rahu and Ketu are best considered as a pair, when we work through the problems signified by the one, we are also healing the other. As they naturally always fall opposite each other, they will fall is opposite signs and houses, which are also natural polarities. For example, if you have Rahu and Ketu falling across the 1st and 7th house axis, then you may struggle to manage relationships and how your sense of self as an individual relates to relationships. Generally speaking you may experience many ups and downs in relationships throughout your life, like having numerous partners for example. 

Healing Rahu and Ketu

A good astrologer will be able to analyse the details surrounding the condition of Rahu in the chart, as with all astrological technique, there is always more to consider than the sign and house placement of Rahu and Ketu alone. Uncovering the particular problems that Rahu and Ketu point towards in the birth chart can enable us to seek external help and start internal work on improving those areas. 


If we remember that the lunar nodes are the points where eclipses occur, then we can begin to understand their uneasy nature. Eclipses are New Moons or Full Moons but to a more exact degree, as the Sun and Moon meet by longitude and latitude. The Luminaries are arguably the most important celestial bodies in the sky and in astrology, so their exact meeting point is loaded with sensitivity. If New and Full Moons are like the celestial doors opening, then as eclipses are when the flood gates are thrown open wide. Eclipses are known to bring dramatic events, especially on a mundane level for the places where the eclipse is visible. On a personal level, they can bring extraordinary events if they impact a particular planet or important degree in the birth chart. However, this is dependent on other mitigating factors, and not all eclipses will bring an immediate effect. Eclipses are notoriously unpredictable by virtue.


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