Eclipses have been a source of fear and fascination for millennia. You can imagine what reaction a sight like the Sun disappearing at midday or the Moon turning red caused in different cultures when they had no understanding of the astronomical mechanism at work. Today most modern people understand what causes them, but they probably don't know why they happen when they do. . .
As a quick review, a Lunar Eclipse occurs at a Full Moon when the Sun and Moon are in opposition. The Earth gets between them and casts its shadow on the Moon, which is what you see gradually moving across it. Due to "earthshine" or the reflected light of the Sun from the Earth, it's not entirely dark so the Moon looks reddish and doesn't entirely disappear. A Solar Eclipse happens with a New Moon when the Moon's path takes it directly in front of the Sun, blocking it out. This is by far the more dramatic of the two, does not last nearly as long, and is viewed across a much smaller geographical area. Of course the question now is why does this only happen twice a year instead of every month? The answer is simply because they aren't lined up properly with the lunar nodes.
In order for an eclipse to occur, the ecliptic and lunar nodes need to be within approximately 15 degrees or less. The ecliptic is the apparent path of the Sun and the lunar nodes are the points where the Moon's orbit crosses it going from South to North (North Node) and North to South (South Node). The nodes rotate slowly in a counterclockwise direction around the zodiac and represent important personal points in your horoscope. Typically aspects to the North Node indicate something new is coming into your life or a significant event or change is on the way and aspects to the South Node indicate something is ending or going out of your life. There is karmic meaning to them also where the South Node indicates where you've been and the North Node where you're going.
Not all eclipses are total, according to how close the ecliptic and nodes are aligned. There are three types of Lunar Eclipse including an Appulse, i.e. an eclipse where the Moon enters only the penumbra of the Earth, its larger shadow as opposed to the smaller cone at the center of the Earth's shadow. There are also Partial Eclipses where the Moon enters the umbra without being totally immersed in it and of course Total Eclipses where the Moon is entirely consumed by the umbra.
There are six types of Solar Eclipses including a Partial, where the Moon doesn't quite cover the Sun; a Total where the Moon completely covers the Sun as seen from the path of its shadow on the Earth's surface; an Annular Eclipse where the Sun is entirely covered but the Moon is too far away for the apex of its shadow to reach the Earth. Furthermore, it will not entirely hide the Sun so a narrow ring of light will surround the dark New Moon (see picture at left). An Annular-Total eclipse is a Total Eclipse for part of its path and then Annular for the remainder. There are also Annular and Total Eclipses where the central line does not touch the Earth's surface.
Needless to say both the Sun and Moon have a strong influence on our horoscopes so when they pair up with the nodes it's normally going to facilitate a significant effect. Nonetheless, some are noticeable in our lives or even in the world at large while others come and go largely unnoticed. One place to look for their affect is in the astrological Houses in which they fall on your Natal Chart as that is the area of your life that is most likely to be affected. The Houses represent polarities with the 1st/7th axis the Axis of Identity which relates to our self and those close to us; 2nd/8th, the Axis of Desire (including both love and money); 3rd/9th the Axis of Thoughts and Beliefs as well as our surroundings; 4th/10th, that ongoing struggle between home and career or our private and public persona; the 5th/11th, Axis of Love and Creative Power where we develop our love of self and then extend it to others; the 6th/12th, the Axis of Work and Service to self and others. Eclipses come in pairs and sometimes trios that will influence one of these axes with the effects lasting as long as 18 months. Their effects are sometimes noticeable up to three months before they occur; time is not necessarily linear in space. Others have theorized that it's actually the nodes that bring the effects and as they line up previous to the actual eclipse, which acts as the climax, they trigger events. The House influence will rotate counter-clockwise around the horoscope according to the placement of the lunar nodes. You can find out when and in which astrological sign they will occur in an ephemeris.
Eclipses have been observed in a scientific manner for millennia. As far back as 747 B.C. the Babylonians could accurately predict the timing of eclipses and also noticed that lunar eclipses only occurred when there was a solar eclipse but that a solar eclipse could occur without an accompanying lunar eclipse. Sometimes solar eclipses even came with two lunar eclipses, each one about two weeks either before or after the solar. By the 4th Century B.C. they even noticed that eclipses were not isolated events, but occurred in series which the Greek lexicographer Suidas named the Saros Series in the 10th Century A.D. Each series begins as a tiny partial eclipse at either the North or South Pole and produces an eclipse every 18 years plus 9 to 11 days, depending on how many leap years there are in the 18 years span. Each one advances approximately 120 degrees of longitude from the last and each one will move a little further north or south, depending on which pole it began. As it closes in on the lunar nodes, the partial eclipses will become total, then become partial again as it moves beyond them again. Each series contains approximately 71 - 73 solar eclipses and runs for approximately 1300 years after which it will end at the opposite pole from where it began. Each series is named according to its "birth pole" and are also given a number based on the actual years that series will produce an eclipse. Thus, they are not numbered based on when they originated, but when they'll occur. Their names will thus be such things as 15 North, 16 South, etc. Each year will have two eclipse "seasons" with one from the North series and one from the South. It's also interesting to note that each series makes the rounds of the Zodiac and thus when they progress from partial to total, they will be around the same zodiacal longitude as when they were born and will eventually fade away in that same general area.
The truly interesting part as far as their astrological influence is concerned is that each series has its own characteristics, which will be expressed in some way by each eclipse within that family. Even as family members have certain traits in common, yet maintain their individuality, eclipses will do the same. Thus, when an eclipse occurs, think back approximately 18 years to what was happening at that time and you may find a clue on how the current one will affect your life.
Typically the difference between a Solar and Lunar eclipse as far as its astrological influence is concerned relates to whether it's external or internal. In other words, Solar Eclipses tend to stimulate events around you whereas Lunar Eclipses work more on your thoughts and feelings, though these, in turn, are likely to motivate you to act and perhaps facilitate various events. They tend to highlight a certain area of your life and if you've been ignoring anything, it will be brought to your attention in a way that is hard to miss. If you were born during a Solar or Lunar Eclipse, the theme of that particular Saros Series is going to be reflected in your life. For famous individuals born during an eclipse, astrologer, Bill Meridian, has identified a correlation between the location of the events that brought them fame and the path of visibility of the eclipse. For example, Karl Marx was born during a solar eclipse on May 5, 1818 and the path extends across geographical areas most affected by his idea. The Confederate army leader, Robert E. Lee, was also born during an eclipse and the path slices the USA in half.
For more information on the personality of a particular Saros Series and when they occur I recommend the book Predictive Astrology: The Eagle and the Lark by Bernadette Brady. Another excellent book on eclipses is The Predictive Power of Eclipse Paths by Bill Meridian. NASA has maps available of eclipse paths at http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse.html. The maps in the link below were generated by my astrological software, Sirius 3.0.
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