The Parallax Moon
If someone were to ask me about the purpose of my life, I’d say that it was about bringing choice-centered, evolutionary astrology to a wider audience. When it comes to accomplishing that goal, the basic problem we all face is that astrology is such a fabulous language, but in order to speak it, a person needs to take a six-week course in its grammar and vocabulary. Most people don’t have the time or the motivation to do that. That leaves a lot of them thinking only of Sun signs. That’s fine, but of course Sun sign astrology is astrology running at 10% of its potential power.
Apart from a stint with Elle magazine a couple of decades ago, I’ve stayed away from that kind of popular astrology. I’ve instead made my own stand a little higher on the intellectual food chain – but, other than with my serious students and in my books, I’ve always tried to keep the welcome mat out for relative beginners. Those of you who have followed this newsletter for a few years know just what I mean.
In this edition of our newsletter, I am going to break that pattern. I want to present an advanced subject. It may leave some of you scratching your heads, but I hope it has another effect. I hope it gets you interested in a subject that has been ignored for too long. The area I want to present, while it’s not a new discovery, is an area of astrology which is begging for more attention. As ever, it takes the community of astrologers, working over at least a generation, to come to anything like full understanding of anything new. No one astrologer can do it on his or her own. Going further, Tony Howard tells me that we’ve had some questions coming in about this subject lately, so maybe it’s in the air. In any case, welcome to the curious case of the “parallax Moon.”
What you are about to encounter is taken directly from the second chapter of my The Book of the Moon, published in 2010.
THE PARALLAX MOON
Parallax is a familiar effect. The classic illustration is to simply hold a finger straight up at arm’s length and then look at it first through one eye, then through the other. Of course the finger seems to jump back and forth against the background. But really study it and you will see that there is another, more subtle effect as well. Through your left eye, you see a little bit more of the left side of your finger. Through your right eye, the opposite effect happens.
It works the same way with the Moon. People in different parts of the world can be looking at the same Moon at the same moment, but each will have a slightly different angle on it because of the physical distance between them. For example, a person might be looking at the rising Moon from New Zealand, while at the same moment someone in Spain is watching the Moon set. It can happen that way because those two countries are located at each others’ antipodes – opposite sides of the Earth. Moonrise for one is approximately Moonset for the other. But each one will see the Moon from a slightly different perspective.
Another way to say it is that Spain and New Zealand have an 8000 mile baseline between them, running straight through the center of the Earth. And with the Moon only about 240,000 miles away, that baseline is long enough to produce a noticeable parallax view – we are back to looking at your fingertip through alternate eyes.
Proportionally, it is as if you are looking at a globe that is thirty feet away from you. Then you slide over twelve inches to your left and look at it again. The view of the globe is basically the same, but if you look really carefully, you will notice that you are seeing that globe from a slightly different angle.
Parallax allows us to see approximately another 1% around the Moon on each side. That is not much. You might be wondering why we bother to explain it in these pages. There is a very good reason. Read on.
THE PARALLAX MOON
Parallax also shifts the Moon’s position against the starry background, the same way that the trick with your fingertip makes it seem to jump against the backdrop of your furniture. This is an effect with serious, if little known, astrological consequences. What lunar parallax means is that if you think that your natal Moon lies in 14̊ Gemini 35' . . . well, you might need to think again. The actual position depends on your point of view. Were you born in New Zealand or in Spain?
The positions of the Sun, Moon, and planets as they are dished up in most modern astrological computer programs are actually the positions as they would be seen from the center of the Earth. The Sun and planets are far enough away that this mathematically-convenient illusion creates no real issues. But the Moon is relatively close to Earth, so parallax generates a noticeable difference.
Maybe you are looking at the Moon rising against the backdrop of the starry sky from the top of the Mauna Kea volcano in Hawaii. Now imagine that you are suddenly shifted to the center of the Earth, looking up through a very long pipe directly at the Moon. The center of the Earth is about four thousand miles away from Mauna Kea – enough to make that Moon jump as much as about one degree against the starry background. That is a lot – a degree is twice the Moon’s own apparent diameter in the sky.
If this sounds obscure and technical, let me say it more directly. With parallax, we are talking about where the Moon actually appeared to be in the sky when you were born. Present day astrological software, with few exceptions, instead defaults to the convenient fiction that we were all born in the center of the Earth.
Which approach makes more intuitive sense? To know where the Moon “really” was when you were born or to believe the computer?
Note that not everyone would see a shift of one degree. That is the extreme. If the Moon were directly overhead in Mauna Kea, being on top of the volcano or four thousand miles straight down beneath it would not move the Moon at all.
Remember how parallax works. If you had only one eye, it would not be an issue. There would be no parallax.
Thinking about parallax with the Moon is cutting-edge astrology. Because the biggest difference it can make – just a degree – does not seem extreme, it can seem like small potatoes. Even at maximum, that probably will not have much impact on a natal interpretation of the Moon – although do note that it could potentially shift the Moon into a different sign! Also, if you are using the Sabian degree symbols, the difference would often throw the Moon into the next or previous degree.
But there is more. In the extreme case, that “one degree” does affect the timing of when aspects by transit or progression come into perfect alignment with the Moon.
More critically, it throws off predictions based on the solar arc Moon by about one year – enough to be catastrophic.
And it utterly and totally re-frames the lunar return chart – these are charts based on the exact moment the Moon returns (each month) to the place it was when you were born. (I have not personally found the technique of lunar returns to be very helpful. Maybe that is because my lunar returns have all been wrong by about an hour! That is the difference half a degree makes, and in my own chart the parallax happens to be that wide. Other astrologers I know swear by lunar returns. I suspect that, for them, the position of the parallax Moon and the “normal” one are not so far apart.)
Perhaps the ultimate test for the parallax Moon lies in those situations where the Moon changes signs if we apply the parallax method. Say a person is born with the Moon in 0̊ Virgo 20'. Parallax could potentially shift that position by almost 60'. Forward or backward? You have to answer that question case by case. But if it is backwards, then that individual’s Moon is not in Virgo at all—it is in 29̊ Leo 20'. And that is an entirely different situation.
Should we use the parallax Moon instead of the more conventional one? At this point, in all honesty, I am not convinced one way or the other. The distinction is subtle most of the time. My own personal experience is important to me, but the reality is that astrology advances best when hundreds of astrologers are sharing their collective experience – and it grows stagnant when the field agrees to ignore a question.
If you are interested in learning more about this parallax Moon topic, the best place I know to begin is with the work of Alphee Lavoie, who has really pioneered it. A click on www.Alphee.com will get you going. Hit Education>Astrology Reading Room and look for some articles he wrote based on his research. And, by the way, Alphee’s Millennium Star Trax software allows you easily to calculate the parallax Moon, as does the popular Solar Fire program.
That is the end of what I wrote in The Book of the Moon, back in 2010. In all honesty, despite my best intentions, I’ve not followed up on the parallax Moon with the kind of research it deserves. All I can plead is the squeaky wheels getting the grease. I’ve been busy with other things. Maybe I’ll get to it one day.
On the other hand, maybe I won’t. Maybe it is up to one of you.
That is how the wheels turn.