Let’s talk about polarities.
In astrology, a polarity refers to two signs on opposite sites of the chart, like Pisces and Virgo. Specifically, I want to talk today about troubling and queering polarities, and how you might work with polarities in a nonbinary way.
The Foundations: Alchemizing a Polarity
To get us started, let’s first just list out the polarities, so we’re all on the same page!
- Cancer – Capricorn
- Leo – Aquarius
- Virgo – Pisces
- Libra – Aries
- Scorpio – Taurus
- Sagittarius – Gemini
(New to signs? I go waaaaay in depth on this in my Practical Astrology 101 series over on YouTube. Check out this video for a conceptual background to signs, or skip to this one if you just want to learn a little about each sign.)
These signs on opposite sides of the chart are sometimes misunderstood by new students of astrology as having opposite meanings, but this isn’t quite right. They tend to engage with similar themes, representing different approaches to the theme that can sometimes seem opposite, but in reality they’re just different flavors. One of the best ways to work with a polarity is by integrating those flavors, rather than trying to tip from one to the other.
Let’s look at Cancer and Capricorn as an example.
I have Cancer rising conjunct (next to) my moon, so in my birth chart Cancer is the “flavor” both of how I present myself to the world (rising) and of my default everyday behaviors, my emotional and private life (moon). I show up as a nurturer, but also have firm boundaries and like to retreat into my crab shell. This melds with my emotional sensitivity, my needs to be taken care of and find “my people” to co-introvert with.
That means that Capricorn is across the chart, what’s known as the “descendant.” (If you’re looking at your own birth chart from astro.com or another online source, this sign is denoted by the letters DC and is on the right-hand side of your chart.) The descendant is all about the other, and represents what we look for in close relationships, as well as traits we may project onto others and have trouble claiming as part of us.
For me, this shows up pretty obviously. I hate effort. Before I understood ADHD, I viewed myself as a fundamentally lazy person, as if this was a stain on my soul (no thanks, capitalism!) Capricorn traits like consistency, responsibility, and discipline were not me. I still think of how in elementary school, I always got “trait points” for integrity but never for responsibility.
But just because I don’t see myself as Capricornian, doesn’t mean I’m not! We all have access to all twelve signs, it’s just that some we may not identify with or we may find harder to access than others. One way to access those traits we can’t see in ourselves, that we might “give away” to others through projection, is by working with the other side of the polarity where we may be more comfortable and thinking about the integration of the two.
At the Cancer Full Moon this year, which was incredibly psychic for me, I channeled the phrase “water pressure” (appropriately, in the shower!) for the alchemy of Cancer and Capricorn. (If you’re interested in an extended ramble on polarities from me in total intuitive channeling mode, by the way, check out this episode of blindloveradio, where I go more in depth on this insight and others). In order for healing water to wash over us in the shower, we need pressure, right? We need a container (pipes) to get the water to us.
The same is true in life. I could easily relate to the idea that my watery self needs containers to function happily and safely. Further, in playing with the Cancer-Capricorn alchemy, I started thinking about emotional labor, nurturing work. I might be “lazy” if we define work or effort in narrow, capitalist terms. But when we get outside of this paradigm, we notice that laziness… is not actually a thing. And work doesn’t have to be painful, unpleasant, or directed towards someone else’s goals.
As I’m sure you know, the emotional labor of women, femmes, and nonbinary people is consistently devalued in our culture. I’ve known that for a long time, but it took a lot longer to honor my own emotional labor, because it doesn’t feel like work. In other words, I’ve noticed that my mind, by defining Capricorn traits like hard work as “not me” in a classic move for a Cancer rising, was being a bit circular. I was defining myself out of effort by saying “I don’t like things that feel hard, so I must not be doing labor.” At the same time, I’d be annoyed at myself for not having more capacity to care for others, to nurture others. But I didn’t understand that my limited capacity came from the fact that nurturing is labor. And sometimes even if you enjoy it, it’s tiring!
(Funnily enough, for the longest time I didn’t identify with Cancer traits, either, because I was so damned burnt out I couldn’t see myself as a caring person, but that’s for another email!)
I think some of my misrecognition of my own experience came from this tendency to want to separate opposing “flavors” and see them as a mutually exclusive binary. I was doing this way before I knew a thing about astrology, but astrology can easily validate your existing thinking if you don’t keep your mind open!
Cancer and Capricorn, interestingly enough, are commonly associated with mother and father, male and female. That’s gonna be a big “NOPE” from me, but it’s useful to mention as we think about what it means to practice astrology in a nonbinary, fluid way. I see binaries as an unhealthy expression of “two,” but “two” isn’t inherently bad. I like the term “duality” as one less strict / comparing way of looking at two. Cancer-Capricorn is a duality, a healthy expression of two “flavors” in the chart.
When I think about nonbinary astrology, I think about working with duality and I think about alchemizing these flavors. I like that word, alchemy, because it points to the possibility of blending that goes beyond human logic and scientific formulas. When I think about alchemizing the energies of the signs in a polarity, I open my mind as wide as possible to consider what could be true that is greater than the sum of its parts.
The Temperance card in the tarot is a great example of this. In decks based on the popular Smith Rider-Waite system, we see a figure pouring water back and forth somehow between two cups, defying physics. They’re able to do this because they have one foot on land, but the other is standing on water, representing a trust in Spirit (or God, the universe, higher self, choose your own adventure here). Temperance in the tarot is all about trust, believing that the impossible is possible. It makes me think about dialectics, where we hold two seemingly contradictory truths in one hand. It also makes me think about nonbinary experience, and this is a card I personally hold very close. My chart is super watery but also has strong fire, a combo that “doesn’t go together” in many magic systems. When fire and water combine, something big is at play. I aim to live out this fantastic alchemy in my own life through cultivating my imagination and always looking for ways to be in duality, rather than “choosing sides.”
So back to Cancer-Capricorn: when I think about nurturing as labor, I start to get at the integration, and further if I think of labor as nurturing, things get really interesting! What does work look like when it truly fills you up? What is it like to build lasting things (Capricorn) from a place of being cared for and prioritizing your own needs (Cancer)? How can I honor that the things I enjoy do “count” as labor, but also that labor can be enjoyable?
If you have your own chart, take a look at the signs on the left and right-hand side, the AC and DC respectively, and consider how you might blend those “flavors.” What would an alchemy of these energies look like? What are you already embodying that you might not be seeing because the sign on the descendant feels foreign or inaccessible? (You can also do this exercise with any sign you feel uncomfortable with, by playing with its polarity twin.)
Integrating the Nodes, Playing with Dialectics
Now that we’ve got a handle on polarities, let’s look at a particular application.
The nodes in your birth chart, north and south, point to an area of soul growth and an area of comfort, respectively. It’s important to name that there are many takes on the nodes and they can vary widely. It’s also important to name that this concept is central to Vedic astrology, which I do not practice. If you’re Hindu and/or practice Vedic astrology, note that this is a different perspective and there are tons of great resources out there that might align more with the system you study and practice!
I’ve heard a lot of different ways of thinking about the nodes, but typically the idea is that your south node is a place of comfort, familiarity, automatic action. You can think of it as your default mode, or as a lesson you already learned in past lives. It’s what your soul is “used to” being. The north node tends to be a little uncomfortable, a little unfamiliar, a little strange by contrast. But we know that these are not actually opposites, so what does that mean?
Well, for me this understanding of a polarity as something other than just “opposite” helps me to see how I can work with both nodes in my chart. (By the way, if you’re looking for yours, the north node symbol looks kind of like a horseshoe, and the south node isn’t pictured but is directly opposite). Some astrologers focus heavily on the north node and leaning into it, moving towards it, but I find this linear view a little too close to capitalist ideas of “progress” and not particularly resonant. Others talk about integrating the two, which is much more my speed.
Honestly, my brain kind of wants it to be more linear. I have a tendency towards extremes, and it would be pretty easy for me to just abandon my south node and run impulsively in the other direction. Hilariously, my south node is in Scorpio, so even this tendency towards extremes is represented in a meta way in my chart! Going deep down a rabbit hole, Scorpio style, can be fun, but I like other models for working with integration.
In a talk last year, Raquel Reyes described the south node as being about “release and refine,” which is one model I love. In other words, it’s not about letting go entirely or abandoning the south node parts of ourselves. But because the south node is naturally a little overdeveloped, while we’re not running away from it we do need to balance. That balance involves finding the excesses of that sign’s energy that we can release or at least question, and refining down to find the valuable core of that sign’s energy that we really do want to take with us and include as we explore the less familiar north node.
What’s fun about this model is that you can do pretty much the exact same thing with the north node: explore where you might need a little more of that sign’s energy, and look for the valuable core that you’d like to pursue or incorporate more in your life rather than trying to suddenly become that uncomfortable energy, wholesale.
Take a look at the signs on the nodes for you, and see if you can identify that “valuable core” on each side. What can you release that isn’t part of the south node’s core? What can you play with that is part of the north node’s core?
For example, I want to retain the comfort with challenge and release and transformation and even death that is part of Scorpio, as being present with those energies is a critical piece of how I steward others through change in my work. I wouldn’t want to abandon that! But I might not need to dwell in or ruminate on the darker side of life, or get caught up in extremes where I can’t see a bigger picture.
With my north node in Taurus, I’m not the most comfortable focusing on my personal pleasure, or spending money on quality things that will bring me joy. And that’s okay! But I can see the abundance mentality and the embodied pleasure at the core of that sign and take baby steps towards being more present to the joys of my senses and the beauty of things I love. When I blend the two, I become more adept at living within things that are beautiful and hard, at digging deep without getting lost.
The beauty of the nodes, to me, is that a soul can hold more than one truth at once. This is something I’ve always believed. I believe that our souls transcend time and physical reality, and so while our brains may struggle to see how an incorporation of these “flavors” is possible, our soul knows that it’s necessary. To me, that’s a very nonbinary, very queer idea!
The Queerness of an Out-of-Sign Polarity
Okay, now let’s get weird. So far we’ve been talking about nice neat polarities, opposing signs. But what if it’s more complicated than that?
One thing that bothered me a lot in my first couple of years of astrology study was how eclipse cycles didn’t seem to make sense using my preferred house system. I actually think my preference may be changing towards whole sign houses, but at the time I was using Placidus. You don’t need to know what that means, exactly—the important part is that it’s a system where the houses in a chart don’t perfectly align with the signs.
Houses are the sections of a chart, the pie-like wedges that show us what area of life a particular part of the chart concerns. When looking at a series of eclipses, which always happen in the same pair of signs for about a year and a half, the easiest way to find personal relevance in the chart is to check which houses they occur in. So for example, if eclipses are happening in your first and seventh houses (the locations of the rising sign and descendant), you can expect to be experiencing some shakeups around the self vs. the other. And if you use a system like Placidus where signs and houses don’t perfectly match, it’s entirely possible that one or more eclipses in the series might happen over the edge of that “pie slice” so that they’re in a different house than the others in the series.
I kept asking around for a solution for this, especially when the eclipses were happening in Cancer and Capricorn. In my Placidus chart, nearly half of Cancer is in the 12th house (the rest in the 1st), and nearly half of Capricorn in the 6th house (as opposed to the 7th). So when an eclipse happened in the first half of those signs, how was I supposed to count it? Was it part of the self-other story? Should I consider those eclipses actually part of the next series? (Eclipses are related to the nodes, which move “backwards” over time, so the next eclipse series would mostly take place in my 6th and 12th houses). No one had an answer, and I was kind of annoyed. I really wanted astrology to just give me an answer!
But as my study continued, I realized that there is… no answer. There’s not supposed to be an answer. Both can be true! Blend them up, see what happens. And in playing around with both ways of looking at it (part of this series, part of the next series) I had an opportunity to explore the beautiful weirdness, the queerness you might say, of the mix-and-match. I could ask myself questions like “how is my felt experience different when a Cancer eclipse is happening in my 1st house vs. my 12th?” or “how is my felt experience of a 12th house eclipse different when it’s in Cancer vs. Gemini?” I could also see what initially confused me as a bridge: the 12th house Cancer eclipse forming a link between the 1st house Cancer eclipses I’d already experienced in the series and the 12th house Gemini eclipses coming up next.
Even if you prefer whole sign houses (a system where each house is the same size, and matches up perfectly to a sign, great for beginners and used by Hellenistic astrologers), you can play with this by looking at conjunctions and oppositions. A conjunction is when two planets or points are very close, like my rising and moon that I mentioned earlier, and their energies tend to meld together. An opposition is when two planets or points are found on opposite sides of the chart, either exactly opposite one another or within a few degrees. Usually you can expect a conjunction to take place in one sign, and an opposition to take place in two signs of a polarity. But not always! Because of that few degrees of tolerance (the exact number depends on the point we’re talking about and the astrologer), it’s possible to have a conjunction between neighboring signs, or an opposition where it’s not Cancer-Capricorn, for example, but Gemini-Capricorn instead. This is known as an “out of sign” aspect, and some astrologers would dismiss it entirely, but I certainly do not!
These “not quite same” and “not quite opposite” sign pairs don’t get much love in astrology, but I find their potential beautifully queer. As a queer person and as a queer neurodivergent person especially, I really relate to these aspects because I too have been seen as “not quite right” and an “outsider.” Since we’re focusing on polarities, let’s focus on the “not quite opposite,” and ask the question, what if we looked at the two signs in question as an alternate polarity? What would that polarity concern? Instead of writing off the out-of-sign opposition, let’s embrace and queer it!
So for example, if we’re looking at an opposition between a planet close to the cusp (or dividing line) in Gemini and another planet close to the cusp in Capricorn, what do we notice? What does integrating Gemini and Capricorn look like? What might be the push and pull between them? They’re certainly “extra different,” mutable air and cardinal earth. Capricorn has the energy to initiate a concrete, lasting project while Gemini has the energy to have tons of conversations with different people and expose itself to all sorts of varying information. The blend might be less obvious than in a traditional polarity, but I bet you can find it! I start thinking about “informed work,” about what it looks like to gather information and be flexible in building something, but still take action.
If I could leave you with anything from this little passion topic of mine, it would be this: uncomfortable moments in astrology have powerful queer, nonbinary potential. When you’ve studied everything and it still doesn’t make sense, what possibility does that unleash? How can you work within the uncertainty? And when two energies are seemingly opposite, or even unrelated, what does it look like to alchemize them?