As discussed in Part One, there is often confusion about these two, the Vertex axis and the Nodal axis, particularly when it comes to planetary contact to either end of the axis via synastry: both are said to be responsible for the so-called ‘fated’ relationship. But in practice, these two are very different, with a different agenda in mind. Each one asks something unique of us, a unique adjustment to the way we interact with the world, and they are not interchangeable. The only thing they have in common is that they draw relationships and situations into our lives that spur our spiritual transformation.
So what are they after, and how are they different from one another?
The Vertex was called the ‘electric Ascendant’ by L.E. Johndro and Charles Jayne, who discovered it independently in the 40’s. It was said to mark the place where the electrostatic release points from the Earth at the birth moment run opposite the magnetic field, thereby giving us two Ascendants–one based on the physical horizon (the natal Ascendant), and one based on pure energy (the Vertex). Johndro related it to Uranus. And there is something decidedly Uranian about how it works: it carries the short, sharp shock of the new, the previously unrealized. Often, Vertex contacts come into our lives, deliver their message, and then disappear just as quickly as they came, leaving us altered in a profound way, but a bit shattered. Can’t get more Uranian than that–Uranus of the higher mind, beyond mere mortality/physicality. The lover or friend who comes ‘out of the blue’ and happens to put us on our path, who helps us know who are we when we are not our earth-created ego, we when we are not our ‘stuff.’ Like the Nodes, the Vertex reveals the soul’s intent, but it is confined to “Who am I?” Who is the inner Watcher, the one who knows? What happens when we discover that the guide to whom we attribute our luck and our grace and our inner wisdom is truly ourselves? This is the Vertex as the deepest part of “I.” When someone’s planet falls on either end of this axis, we cannot remain unaware of this Soul-Self. We are stricken to the core, so that even the core is newly altered.
In contrast, the Nodes are all about our interaction with the world ‘out there.’ Because they consist of the relationship of the Sun and the Moon from the point of view of the Earth, they are about the way our spiritual intent unfolds within material reality. They mark how we process our experience, and what we learn from it. The South Node describes our orientation to life, which is ingrained in us. It’s our habitual way of acting in the world, interacting with it, understanding it. It is the result of lifetimes of negotiating the ‘I’ with the ‘not I,’ the ego with the other. The South Node tells us which colour and pattern we use to filter our experience. The South Node says to us, this is they way the world works, and this is what I know”–only it doesn’t do it consciously. Most often we’re not aware of the way we filter experience, and we assume that others process the world the same way we do–their experience is our experience. And then one day (usually around the time of the first nodal return at age 19) we realize that isn’t really true. We begin to see differences in perception–and this is the beginning of the road towards the North Node.
Where Vertex contacts help to reveal who we are, nodal contacts affect our behavioural comfort zones. Because the nodes involve an intersection of the Sun and the Moon, the classic ‘conjunctio,’ they are about relationship itself. And with this we have to ask what is the function of relationship? On both its deepest and its most mundane level, relationship allows us to grow– through interacting with another being in an intimate way, we begin to understand and reveal and work with elements of the psyche that have not been developed before. We come up against the limits of our own definition of ourselves and either change, accepting the new-found knowledge, or we sink back into past patterns and move on to the next learning experience. This is also the way the outer planets function in relationship–they reveal to us what was previously unseen within ourselves.
If we accept this definition of relationship, then the question of how the Nodes function in synastry is an easy one. Contacts to the South Node perform a very different function from contacts to the North Node.
The South Node involves how we express ourselves, how we give and take, and is often about what we find pleasing and safe. It’s also about what we expect and assume of the world, which is why difficult planets to the South Node can be so damaging. Saturn there may expect the world to be a harsh place; Pluto may find it devouring. The South Node is all about our psycho-spiritual arrangement of our world. We’re comfortable there, harsh as it might be–it’s what we know. If someone’s Venus falls on my South Node, I feel he appreciates me, and the feeling is mutual. He takes the harsh edges off. He likes what I am, without my having to strive for it, or change anything. At its best, when someone’s Venus touches my South Node, they may so value what they perceive as my talents and abilities that I am freed to develop further along those lines, better understanding my own gifts and advantages. Contacts to the South Node always feel like fate (whether they are or not) because the feeling of deep familiarity is palpable–I am understood for what I am, not for what I might be, and that understanding is effortless. Alas, the flaw of South Node contacts is that I am so well known that I may be manipulated, or bored, or my lesser qualities are stimulated, rather than my greater ones. I may fall into a deeper rut via this individual, rather than reach out to what I may become.
Contacts to the North Node from another chart can be inspiring–but they can also irritate and annoy. Our own North Nodes show us where we may develop, but the North Node also holds the key to the very thing that may be standing in our way. The North Node and its ruler often reveal our ‘blind spots’–things we do which make the truth of the North Node harder to unveil. It can often work the same way the Asc/Desc axis works—we are usually very conscious of our Ascendant planets and behaviours, but may project or even reject qualities that our Descendants reveal–the shadow side of our personality. With the South Node, we usually recognize our habits and behaviour, but the North Node holds what is trickier to grasp of ourselves. The North Node is asking us to interact with the world in a new way, and, with its ruler as henchman, may lay out quite clearly what is stopping us from actualizing this feat. Contacts to the North Node can serve in one of two ways: they can shift the veil, inspire us and lure us into new territory, or they can stimulate the behaviour that is blocking our progress and preventing our growth. Contacts to the South Node usually feel like contacts to the Descendant–familiar, comfortable (at least at first) and profound, whereas contacts to the North Node can have an almost Plutonian attraction/repulsion factor. There may be a fascination about it that is downright distressing, and yet we know that this person somehow is leading us down a road we are bound to take, sooner or later. The most profound connections can occur at the times we are experiencing Nodal transits–especially the returns (every 19 years), the reversals (every 9 and a bit years) and the nodal squares to itself. These are times when situations and relationships can boil up in crisis, because they are meant to grab us by the collar and shake a new view into our hearts and minds. New loves enter, old loves leave, the comfy rug gets pulled out from under our feet–we are no longer happy with ourselves, and yet have difficulty understanding just where it is we’re supposed to go. If we’re lucky, we get guided in the right direction. If we aren’t, we are forced to come up with new means of interpreting ourselves and our world view. Planets to either of the Nodes can help in these situations (either natally or from another chart), and we are prone to finding people who reflect that planet at these times. With Saturn or Jupiter on the North Node, we may have luck drawing the right teachers at the right time. Pluto there may get us into situations where our power is tested, and which will reveal a way forward. Venus there can bring love at just the right time. With the North Node stimulated, there is always a shaky uncertainty, which is compulsive in spite of itself. The South Node contacts from another chart are a much easier and more secure ride, even if, ultimately, we have to shed them.
Neither the Vertex or the Nodal axis contacts bring any guarantee of longevity. Judging from my experience with synastry, nodal contacts seem almost common, whereas Vertex contacts between couples are more unusual. It makes sense; contacts would be few and far between who could help us peel back the layers of our outer selves to reach the pure “I” within. To be felt and seen in such a way is a rare intimacy.
But the nodal contacts have a depth and an urgency about them; we know, at some soul level, the path we must take, and both the South and North Nodes are our guideposts along the way. When other people’s planets conjunct our Nodes, we have a fellow traveler, a long-lost companion for this stage in the journey, conjured like magic from an unremembered life to buoy us up or urge us forward, exposing our strengths and our weaknesses, staying by our side when the balance is tipped, helping us decide whether to hold on or let go. That’s another kind of intimacy, the kind that is forged in the fire of shared experience.
I’m glad I don’t have to choose between them.