"She is the most powerfull in operation of all the
other planets on Elementary bodies by reason of her
proximity to us and her swiftness, by which she
transfers the light and influence of all Superiours to
us, by configuration with them."
Ramesey, Astrology Restored
This passage, written by the 17th Century astrologer William Ramesey, conveys something of the great importance attached to the interpretation of the Moon in traditional astrology. Today most of us identify with our Sunsign - to some extent at least - and classify our friends according to theirs. The relatively recent recognition of the Sun as the central star of the Solar System has elevated it to a position of supreme significance in modern astrology that has overshadowed the traditional importance of the Moon.
This is not to say that the Sun was ever disregarded by the ancients. Even in the Earth-centred Ptolemaic system the Sun occupies a central position, midway between the sphere of the fixed stars and the globe of the Earth 'placed in the midst of all the Planets, being the chief light and president of them all', as Ramesey put it, with the three superior planets above it, the two inferiors and the Moon below. Ramesey compared the Sun to 'an Emperor amongst the stars'. In practical interpretation though, the Moon was a more direct and immediate influence. If the Sun was an emperor, the Moon was his standard bearer, or 'an Ambassador, Messenger &c. to do his business'.
To understand the special significance of the Moon, we must look into the cosmological doctrines that underlie classical astrology. According to the philosopher Aristotle (4th Century BC), the Universe is divided into two distinct regions: the earthly and the heavenly. The Earth and its surrounding atmosphere was contained within the 'sub-lunar sphere', where everything was composed of various combinations of the four elements: earth, air, fire and water. The elements were constantly transforming one into another so everything in the sub-lunar sphere was in a state of perpetual change. Astrologers attempted to monitor and predict conditions in the elemental world through contemplation of their 'superior causes', i.e., the ever-shifting configurations of the stars and planets in the heavens.
The Earth was enclosed by nine concentric heavenly spheres: the seven planetary spheres, the sphere of the fixed stars and the outermost sphere of the 'Prime Mover', which governed all celestial motion. Instead of four unstable elements, there was one pure fifth element or 'quintessence' in the heavens from which the grosser elements were created. Spirit descended into material existence through each of the planetary spheres in turn. It was moulded into its final earthly form in the Moon-sphere. The Moon's special role was to receive celestial influence or 'virtue' from the rarefied heavenly spheres above and transmit it to the sub-lunar sphere of the elements below.
This function is symbolised in all branches of classical astrology, but it is most clearly seen in the conventions of horary where the Moon is always appointed 'co-significator' to represent the querent's interests. Its swift motion through the zodiac is vital in animating the planetary configurations in a horary chart; it is said to 'translate the light' between one planet and another as its aspects form and dissolve. At the time a question is asked, aspects the Moon has already made from the sign it currently occupies describe the circumstances leading up to the question; aspects it makes before leaving its current sign describe future developments and the outcome. In horary at least, the Moon's symbolic role as a mediator between the earthly and celestial regions is still acknowledged.
© David Plant. First published in The Traditional Astrologer Magazine, p.29; issue 5, Summer 1994, Ascella Publications