To some, it may seem obvious how eclipses form, to others it remains mysterious. If you are in the latter category, perhaps I can shed some light on this shadowy phenomenon.

A solar eclipse occurs when there is a New Moon in the same plane as the Earth’s orbit of the Sun (the ecliptic). A lunar eclipse happens when the Full Moon falls in this plane. New and Full Moons occur when the Sun, Moon, and Earth are in a line. During a New Moon, the Moon falls between the Sun and Earth, which makes the Sun and Moon conjunct (together at the same point) in the zodiac. During a Full Moon, the Earth is between the Sun and the Moon, which makes the Sun and Moon in opposition (180 degrees apart, or opposite) in the zodiac.

The reason we do not experience a solar eclipse at every New Moon and a lunar eclipse at every Full Moon is because the plane of the Moon’s orbit around the Earth is tilted in relation to the plane of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. So most of the time when the Earth, Sun, and Moon are in a line, the Moon is a little bit above or below the plane of the Earth’s orbit.

Imagine that your heart is the Sun, and you are holding a tennis ball in your right hand in front of you in a line that is parallel to the floor. Imagine the tennis ball is the Earth going around and around your heart at arm’s length in a circle that is parallel to the floor. Now imagine your left index finger is the Moon, circling around the Earth (tennis ball). Except the circle of the Moon around the tennis ball is not parallel to the floor, but is tilted at slightly less than a 30 degree angle to the circle of the tennis ball around your heart. Your finger goes up above the plane of the tennis ball circle for half the time and drops below this plane for half the time.

When your finger crosses the plane of the tennis ball’s circle (the ecliptic), it can form an eclipse – if it happens during a New or Full Moon. In other words, if your finger passes between the tennis ball and your heart AND happens to be at the point in its orbit when it is crossing the plane, your finger will briefly block part (partial solar eclipse) or all (total solar eclipse) of the Sun’s light from hitting the Earth. If your finger passes in a line on the far side of the tennis ball from your heart while it is crossing this plane, the Earth will briefly cast a shadow on the Full Moon (a partial or total lunar eclipse).

Incidentally, since we do not see the Moon during a New Moon, an eclipse is proof that it actually exists during this time. This was a very significant fact to our ancestors, who had no other confirmation that the Moon continued to exist when they could not see it.

In astrology, eclipses are recognized as potent times of transformation. This may be because of interruptions in magnetic and other energy fields, or it may be because the feeling of alignment awakens a primal connection to the mystery of life inside of us. Either way, we notice a palpable shift in what we experience or how we experience it that can last for months after the eclipse itself.

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© Marina Ormes 2011. All rights reserved.