FROM EQUINOX TO EQUINOX:
The Celestial Forecast
By Marianne Jacuzzi
M.A., E-RYT 500, Jyotish Visharada, Jyotish Kovid, Jyotish Brihaspati
Two themes stand out prominently as we enter the dark quadrant of the year. If any area of your life needs reassessing, now is the season to reflect deeply upon your purpose and contemplate how best the time you have allotted can serve towards spiritual evolution. As daylight grows thin, nature contracts, and we also experience a drawing inwards of our prana. But this year, grahas turning retrograde and hovering over gandanta points make what is already a season for contemplation just that much more powerful for spiritual harvest —as well as more precarious for worldly outcomes.
The opportunities are already underway. From early July to early September, Venus has been hovering around the gandanta point between Cancer and Leo, much of that time transiting retrograde. Mercury’s third retrograde of the year just culminated on 15 September in the fire sign of Leo. Fire continues to figure prominently in the coming alignments. Fire is the element of transformation, of transmutation, of form with no substance. It is Surya in the heavens, Agni in our gut, Tejas in our yearning for Truth. It Is the “fire in the head” that ignites desire, passion, longing, obsession—an unrequited yearning that resolves only in the spaciousness beyond worldly division. It is the ardent heat of summer contracted into the heart. It is the flame of a single candle illuminating the blackness of night.
September might just be my favourite month. It’s a liminal point, where light and darkness meet. (Though with five planets influencing my Moon, singling out a favourite anything has always challenged me). Where I live in Sardinia, thunderstorms arrive late August, breaking the intense heat of summer and leaving the air crystalline. But it’s the quality of September light that I love the most—so pure, so ethereal, so evocative. Colours become more vivid. Summer crowds depart. Space expands into the endless blue of sea and sky. Liberated finally from the tyranny of the academic calendar, I linger on and on, watching restaurants and shops close for the season, sometimes alone on a beach that just over a month before had been solid beach umbrellas.
Space inspires reverie, allows memories to resurface, even those elusive memories that might have belonged to childhood dreams, or to books once read but long ago forgotten, or even to past incarnations. The months leading up to the winter solstice this year will provide the ideal climate for this kind of reflection, particularly for understanding the karmas carried over from past lives. Though the mechanics of reincarnation are open to much metaphysical speculation, it’s a scientific fact that energy and matter cannot be created or destroyed. They can only change in form. Something clearly reincarnates. What is it?
Out of deep meditation, much richness can flow. Once the boundaries of mind become more porous, consciousness can expand, taking in so much more reality. When I began to study yoga, the fifth yama, aparigraha (non-attachment), always puzzled me. It seemed too similar to asteya, which is non-stealing, not taking more than one needs. Later on I understood. The boons each yama brings make their differences clear. The Yoga Sutras teach that mastery of aparigraha gives the ability to know past lives. That happens because the non-attachment of aparigraha expands awareness beyond the confines of this life. Aparigraha means detaching from ego-identity, from all the subtle and not so subtle ways our shakti remains bound to matter. As the tight knot of ego-identity loosens, consciousness extends outwards in both time and space, quite literally, and so naturally can take in the quality of past incarnations.
Retrograde and Gandanta
Though the classics of Jyotish teach very little about retrograde planets (and sometimes their dicta contradict), a few brief statements from the classics—along with an astronomical understanding—indicate how best to harmonise our activity with the energy of retrograde planets.
From our perspective on earth, the illusion of retrograde occurs when a planet appears to slow down and then move backwards. Only the five planets that orbit the Sun can retrograde, and this happens when they are close to the earth. (Rahu and Ketu, though always retrograde, function differently.) Proximity to earth makes the energy, the radiance, the aura of influence of that graha more intense. The classical consensus concurs, with most authors agreeing that retrograde makes a graha stronger. But enhanced strength does not necessarily generate activity. Lacking the forward movement that precipitates action, the extra strength of retrograde goes inwards, manifesting as passivity even as the qualities of the graha do in fact become more potent internally.
Retrograde planets in a birth chart are beyond the scope of this article. But whether you have them or not, we’re all going to be affected by the retrograde transits of this season. Since each birth chart is as unique as a snowflake, the transits will impact everyone differently. Obviously you need to consider the nature of the planets for your chart, conjunctions, house placement, aspects and everything else that will modify for better or worse these transits. Yet even so, the energy of retrograde will influence our entire planet. It will intensify the effect of the gandanta points, the second important theme of the season.
Gandanta marks the division of the zodiac into three sections. Four rashis representing the four elements of fire, earth, air and water and nine nakshatras (lunar constellations) both culminate at 120 degrees. Where the final water sign meets the next fire sign, a gap opens, a kind of wrinkle in time, because at all other junctions between signs a nakshatra overlaps the adjacent sign. Just like a deep chasm separating two cliffs, gandanta can be treacherous. Yet as the bottom falls out of ordinary time, the space it opens up can inspire creativity and spiritual growth. Space facilitates reverie and reflection, and that is the gift of gandanta.
The more we understand of these energies, the better we’ll be able to channel them towards our highest potential. It’s a lot of energy coming! Both Saturn and Jupiter, the planetary giants, will be retrograde for most of the fall and winter. Mercury in December turns retrograde for the fourth time this year! And over the second half of 2023, all three gandanta points receive a significant charge from transiting grahas.
Saturn and Jupiter Retrograde
The two giants are already retrograde at the time of the autumnal equinox, Saturn since 17 June in the air sign of Aquarius and Jupiter since 4 September in the fire sign of Aries. Fire and air function together with an intense synergy. Air feeds fire so it burns hotter and spreads faster. Fire warms air so it blows with greater velocity and ascends towards the heavens with lightness. This phenomenon forms a backdrop for the eclipses of October (to be discussed below). Due to retrograde, it will tend to move inwards, disturbing mental equilibrium; and in some individuals erupting into unpredictable and random acts of violence or despair. However, its destabilising nature can also precipitate profound transformation. With the right intention, powerful sadhana focused upon grounding will strengthen the earth element, a necessary root so that the more subtle energy of fire and air can ascend safely. The nakshatra placements of Saturn and Jupiter provide some interesting clues.
Saturn’s retrograde cycle takes him back into the Nakshatra Dhanistha from 15 October to 25 November. Symbolised by Shiva’s drum, the tabla, or sometimes Krishna’s flute, Dhanistha in its highest vibration provides a vehicle for the soul to pulsate with the Divine, harmonising with the rhythm played by the cosmic dancer, Lord Shiva Nataraj or what medieval Europe called the “music of the spheres”. Shiva’s drum has two sides. As he plays it, he beats out the pulse of duality: the manifestation evolves, from subtle to gross, culminating finally as the earth element, which is stable substance. Earth is the ultimate expression of that music. It might seem counter-intuitive, but stable earth is a prerequisite for spiritual transformation. That is why hatha yoga begins with the body, why proper nourishment facilitates clear thinking, why the divine spark of creation empowers every cell, whether human, animal or plant—but always with a root anchored into the stable substance of Mother Earth.
Shani’s return to Dhanistha will facilitate the spiritual grounding so necessary for smooth navigation of the energies released this autumn. For all of that time, Saturn will be at 6°. In fact from 7 Oct to 3 December, Saturn will be at 6°, crossing over and back the 6°40’ boundary between Dhanistha and Shatabisha. Pay attention to any planets in your chart at or near 6° Aquarius, directly opposite around 6° Leo, or within a narrow orb of aspect. That’s an indication how this alignment might affect you personally. 6° Aquarius is a natural “hot spot”. Exactly opposite the Royal Star, Regulus at 5°58’ Leo, 6° Aquarius is also the place of sign change according to the Tropical Zodiac.
Shatabisha will provide more challenge. Lorded by the highly vata Rahu, it falls entirely in the air sign of Aquarius, which is Saturn’s moolatrikona—that is, where he does his work.
Though signifying dirt and lead, Saturn’s nature is highly vata—cold and dry, tending towards ageing and decay. The earth Saturn indicates is not the fertile fields of growth, but the dust of death. He is “ashes to ashes and dust to dust”. Since Shani will reside in Shatabisha until 7 April 2024, it’s important to fortify your sadhana this winter with grounding practices, keep yourself nourished and warm (always a good idea in winter), and make use of the mystical secrets the nakshatras provide. In addition to Dhanistha, Shatabisha also offers clues. Not only a healing nakshatra pouring out amrita (the nectar of immortality), Shatabisha is connected through Rahu to serpent power, primal creative energy. Unleashed purposefully, it can lead to profound spiritual transformation, to a transfigured body of light—or unleashed haphazardly, it can precipitate cataclysmic psychotic breakdown. Strengthening the earth element is fundamental to its healthy expression. In the subtle body, its ground is the mooladhara, the root chakra, seat of the earth element and Lord Ganesha.
Without a stable ground, strong yoga practices can bring on disturbing symptoms, both physical and mental. But yogis aren’t the only ones needing to nourish the earth element. Without a stable ground, ordinary life in our contemporary world can generate stress, anxiety, emotional volatility and unwholesome addictions, leading in extreme cases even to homicidal and suicidal tendencies. We’re all familiar with these problems in our world. The instability of the air and fire elements compounding exacerbates them all. Virtual reality, where so many people spend so much time, takes us further and further away from the earth element. Instead of reading nature, we read the distortions of propaganda. October is the ideal month to unplug. Turn off your devices and go to the mountains or the seashore or anywhere where you can focus your senses upon a direct experience of nature. Breathe deeply and remember your root into Mother Earth.
Jupiter’s retrograde cycle corroborates this theme. Graha of light and knowledge, of grace and fortune, Jupiter sojourns backwards through the nakshatra Bharani from 4 September to 27 November. He continues retrograde into Ashwini until 31 December, when he turns direct. Not until 4 February does he enter Bharani once again. Both of these nakshatras provide rich material for strengthening the esoteric dimension of the earth element. Bharani is the yoni, the generator of life, which has the power to cleanse away all impurities, just like its deity, Yama, god of death. He collects souls at the end of life and so prepares the way for new life to emerge. Since Bharani channels life force energy, it depends upon a stable ground. For without stable substance, the life force has no field to cultivate.
The beautiful nakshatra of Ashwini signifies the regenerative potential itself. Its deity, the Ashwini Kumars, rule agriculture. Experts in herbs, they are the celestial physicians, assisting childbirth, animal husbandry, gardening, and healing of all kinds. They are young horses, and like horses they exhibit physical strength and stamina, grace and beauty, courage and a lightening like energy. Over the coming months, contemplate the inspiriting shakti of Ashwini. With mantra and prayer, focus your sadhana on its earth strengthening power. If you can, let yourself run wild over fields like a horse—or upon a horse! If that is not possible literally, try visualisation, which can be efficacious also. Feel that wild abandon in your bones. The shakti of Ashwini offers a most powerful antidote to the difficulties that could arise over the coming months.
Annual Solar Eclipse
Against the retrograde phenomenon described above, an Annular Solar Eclipse occurs on 14 October 2023 at 26° Virgo, in the nakshatra of Chitra. Mercury resides also with Sun and Moon in Virgo, his sign of exaltation as well as his home in dual earth. Residing around 3° away from the eclipse point, Mercury is combust the Sun, which hurts his material benefits but augments his spiritual qualities. So financial gains, business acumen, logistics and communications all could suffer, not just at the time of the eclipse but leading up to it and afterwards. But as a high priest who discerns the real from the unreal, Mercury can flourish from this alignment. For in his highest expression, Mercury is a jnana yogi. Virgo is “the garden”, the place where discriminating intellect encounters dual earth. It’s a place of refinement, where the essence of nature is distilled. Healing herbs and tinctures, fine wines, essential oils, ghee, perfume—all are examples of pure essences refined from grosser earth. They epitomise the quality of Virgo, which is alchemical.
In alchemy, the transformation of lead into gold is a metaphor for spiritual metamorphosis. Mercury combust but exalted in conjunction with the solar eclipse has alchemical potential. It will reinforce the power of all sadhana directed towards strengthening the earth element. Notice also in this solar eclipse chart that Ketu is conjunct Mars, both fiery grahas of strong pitta nature. Ketu is just about to regress into Virgo—graha of transcendent consciousness entering the garden. This will be a major energetic shift of the year! Though it won’t support the material benefits of Virgo, that is linear thinking that calculates and communicates for worldly gain, it augments its alchemical potential. Jai Ganesha!
Partial Lunar Eclipse
On 28 October, a partial lunar eclipse occurs at 10° Aries in the nakshatra of Ashwini. All the grace of Ashwini mentioned already becomes more palpable with this trigger. In addition, 10° Aries is the exact degree where Surya exalts. Sun vibrating at its highest frequency is the Atman, and so the spiritual potential of this eclipse is quite potent. Sun residing at 10° Libra, its exact degree of debilitation, actually enhances this potential, which requires a loosening or dissolving of ego identity. A debilitated Sun hurts confidence in the small self, so worldly power and self-aggrandisement will suffer, but awareness of Universal Self can flourish. This effect is enhanced by Mercury’s proximity to the Sun, once again combust, as well as by Ketu, the graha of transcendence, also conjunct the Sun. From a worldly perspective, this is not an easy configuration. Ketu and Mars form a papakatari yoga around Sun and Mercury, who is functioning as a malefic in the presence of three other malefic grahas.
Though Jupiter conjunct the Moon aspecting Libra offers some relief, those two benefics are conjunct Rahu and receive the direct aspect of Saturn. Malefic energy is quite dominant, even as the spiritual potential is so profound. But isn’t that the way of it? Challenge is the grit that grinds away superficiality, and suffering opens the door to divine grace. This chart also exhibits a very interesting symmetry. Seven planets line up along the Aries-Libra axis, the axis of truth in the natural zodiac, with three grahas in fire (Aries) and four in air (Libra). The other two grahas fall opposite each, also in air (Saturn R in Aquarius) and fire (Venus in Leo). Venus and Sun form a Parivartana Yoga exchange, which links all the planets together. All planets also connect through the mutual rashi dristis of Aries and Aquarius; as well as that of Leo and Libra. Once again, all that fire and air coming together needs a strong root of stability, which sadhana to strengthen the earth element can provide. Jai Ganesha!
The Nodes Shift
According to the mean node calculation, Rahu and Ketu change signs on 30 October, so right at the time of the lunar eclipse. From the eclipse chart, you can see their degrees as 00:05, soon to enter Pisces and Virgo. Rahu will move over the gandanta between Aries and Pisces, the alpha and omega point where the zodiac culminates and begins anew. As we already discussed, gandanta can be a very precarious time for worldly affairs. If you have any planets at this point or in close aspect, you want to avoid major decisions or risky endeavours until Rahu has cleared the gandanta bridge (from around 3° Aries to 27° Pisces). Because this transit involves Rahu, a node, the natural dynamic of gandanta gets reversed. It’s not an end opening into new beginnings, but the opposite—a retreat into the past. Nodes are slippery, unpredictable, precarious, erratic. Rahu moves from the energy of genesis back into the energy of consummation, perhaps to bring to light some unresolved old business. This new nodal position will be a major theme going forward. At this time of transition, it adds confluence to the retrograde phenomenon happening concurrently. It’s time to contemplate, to take stock of the past and reassess future directions. The last time Rahu crossed that gandanta point was March-April 2005. Though many things happened that year, various political upheavals and innovations, two events which occurred right when Rahu was gandanta each involved a hearkening back to the past. On 2 April 2005, Pope John-Paul II died and on 19 April Pope Benedict XVI, the scholarly traditionalist, succeeded him. On 9 April 2005, then Prince Charles of Wales married Camilla Parker Bowles, his first true love. Though it’s difficult to predict what might happen this year, it’s important to be aware that recalling the past or tying up loose ends will be a theme for the world or for personal lives this fall.
Full Moon in Rohini
On 27 November the full moon in Rohini coincides with the Nodes ingress into Pisces and Virgo according to the true node calculation. So no matter which calculation you follow, by late November Ketu will be in Virgo, conjunct Venus who is debilitated, and moving ever closer to the 26° point of the solar eclipse of October. This portends a low point for all the things Venus indicates. During the summer of 2023, Venus hovered around the gandanta point between Cancer and Leo, and because of his retrograde cycle, crossed it three times, just after Mars, who is debilitated in Cancer, crossed gandanta too. This generated volatility throughout financial markets and some extreme weather patterns. Already harvests in many parts of the world have failed due to floods, heat waves or torrential rain. In late November, something could come crashing downwards. Ketu, who indicates worldly loss, conjunct a debilitated Venus over the hot spot of the solar eclipse does not augur well for matters of abundance, luxury, good fortune or refinement.
At the same time, Mercury is gandanta, having just entered Sagittarius and so residing in Mula, the nakshatra symbolised by roots. The powerful goddess of dissolution and transformation, Niritti, presides over Mula, granting courage and strength to her devotees who stand resolute in the face of calamities. Fortification requires a firm foundation, and so once again, strengthening roots to empower the earth element provides remedy. The exalted Moon in Rohini, nakshatra of fertility and fecundity, will augment this effort. A strong Mars in Scorpio together with the Sun aspect the full moon. The dynamism and fire of all this pitta energising the full Moon could precipitate something erratic—for good or for ill. A judicious attention to grounding practices should keep this energy positive. With a deep root anchored in reality, all outcomes become positive, because trust in the wisdom of the cosmos is supreme.
Mercury Retrograde Again!
Mercury turns retrograde for the fourth time this year from 13 December to 2 January 2024, once again intensifying the effect of the fire element, this time through the medium of Sagittarius. From 14° Sagittarius, he transits back to 28° Scorpio, and so crosses the most treacherous of the gandanta points. Since Scorpio completes the section of the zodiac associated with tamas, its last degrees have a death-like quality, where the dark swamp of fixed water is most deep—a mysterious, otherworldly realm. The first degrees of Sagittarius in Mula nakshatra reinforce this theme, with the shakti of Nirriti tearing things apart to make way for the new. It’s a place where recently departed souls sometimes get lost in the bardo. The roots of Mula penetrate to the essential core of things, literally or figuratively indicating the right path out of the storm wreckage. Meditation upon those roots will steady the mind, generating inspiration and courage. ( Courage-from old French corage and Latin cor—refers to valour emanating from the heart). As deep roots delve into the murky foundation of existence, they often can encounter hidden things of enormous potency, festering from neglect. A valiant heart empowers the descent, drawing nourishment from the secret treasures those roots can pierce.
The chart of the Full Moon in Ardra on 27 December, during Mercury’s last retrograde of 2023, shows the perilous energy looming over the Scorpio-Sagittarius gandanta. Mercury retrograde at 1° Sagittarius is moving towards Mars, who at 29°28’ Scorpio is moving direct. Soon those two planets will collide in a planetary war right over the border between water and fire. Occurring in the dead of winter, just past the winter solstice, this alignment raises to a steep crescendo the turbulent energy of gandanta that has so characterised 2023. Jupiter retrograde from Aries aspecting Sagittarius brings some mitigation. However, the clashing energy of Mars and Mercury (never the best of friends) right over the most hazardous gandanta could create some major disturbances at the end of the year. Plan a midwinter retreat—the best way to channel this unsettled energy towards purposeful evolution.
All Planets Direct for the New Year
Jupiter turns direct on 1 January 2024, the last retrograde planet to pivot direct. The New Year thus begins with a welcome relief of forward moving energy. Early 2024 is the time to activate any reassessment of life that arose during the retrograde and gandanta phases of 2023. However, I suggest you begin slowly and mindfully, because the challenges are not quite over.
Mars and Mercury will continue to remain very close. The first New Moon of 2024, on January 11th, occurs in Sagittarius, with Mercury and Mars together (though past the gandanta point) with Sun and Moon. On 25 January they form an exact conjunction at 21° Sagittarius, once again with the benefic light of Jupiter upon them. Everything depends upon the nature of your chart. This conjunction can inspire invention: with Mars igniting the intellect of Mercury with passionate determination and Mercury harnessing the dynamism of Mars for precision in outcomes.
This conjunction occurs at the Full Moon in Pushya, a most auspicious nakshatra, with fiery Mars from fiery Sagittarius aspecting the Moon at home in Cancer, and Jupiter from fiery Aries aspecting Sagittarius. Though not without some risk, the energy of fire generated by these alignments will illuminate minds fortified to withstand the heat of transformation. Early 2024 promises more of this dynamic.
On 6 February, Mars transits into Capricorn, his sign of exaltation. The planet of desire, assertion, courage, will, valour and enthusiasm will be in full strength. Expect an exhilarating energy to move things forward. From Capricorn, Mars aspects his friend Jupiter in Aries. This provides momentum for the indications of Jupiter in chara fire—an expansion of knowledge in all fields of higher thought. For you personally, this will manifest according to the house placements of your chart. In general, expect acceleration impacting world affairs. All this fire and forward moving energy will supercharge the changes ahead for 2024. On 13 March 2024, Mars reaches his exact point of exaltation at 28° Capricorn. For some people this might be problematic, because as the warrior, Mars can provoke trouble. But Mars has a righteous side too, determined to fight for justice and to rectify abuse. This happens when Mars pairs up with Jupiter, guardian of moral rectitude, justice and righteousness. That’s the prospect for early 2024.
Mars’s exaltation strengthens the signs he owns, and so Jupiter, resident in Aries, receives impetus not just from Mars’s aspect but also from the increased power of his placement in Mars’s sign of Aries. All this just might bring some welcome relief to our world for 2024. I hope so.
How to Prepare
As students of the sublime science of Jyotish, we can understand something about the celestial weather ahead. This valuable knowledge empowers our judgement for right action in the face of uncertain circumstances. It can ease our journey through life and accelerate our spiritual evolution. Yet precisely what will happen remains known only to the mind of God. It cannot be otherwise, and wishing for it is beside the point. As the great poet T.S. Eliot wrote, “Humankind cannot bear very much reality . . .” When Lord Krishna revealed his true nature to Arjuna, Arjuna received the beatific vision of a thousand blazing suns, but it blew his mind—quite literally. He could not bear so much reality. And so Lord Krishna reappeared in his familiar form, with blue skin, playing his flute. As we face the unsettled energy of the months ahead, Lord Krishna’s teaching of Yoga to Arjuna in the Gita provides the best preparation.Yoga stills the mind. As Lord Krishna says, “Yoga is skill in action.” My humble suggestion to you for this season is simple: strengthen your connection to the earth element. Find the method most suited to you—yogic practices or mindful excursions into nature—all are good. With conscious breathing, hold a steady ground, meditating upon your root connection to Mother Earth. It has the power to fortify you in the face of ever more Reality.