Summary: This is a follow-up to a two-part series. The series is told as personal, multi-genre essay where I compare my personal experiences to varying astrological phenomena (namely the Progressed Lunar Return and the Reverse Nodal Return). For Part Two, I open up commentary on the subject of fate and free will as it pertains to the Reverse Nodal Return. See Part 1 here.
I wanted to be a beautician when I was four. The stereotypical appeal of beautifying something appealed to me — I’d get an excuse to play in hair and scrunch it up, color it, cut it. And I had said as much when the thought came to me, announcing it to my dad while I sat on the living room floor.
“If that’s what you wanna be.” He would say with a non-committal shrug, turning the stereo’s big volume knob with his headphones askew.
The lack of drama the answer provided was satisfying to girl-me, even assumed; I took the phase ‘you can be anything you put your mind to’ quite literal. Had there been any classmate or teacher or random cousin I saw only once a year were waiting in the wings to tell me otherwise, I would insist upon this and then skip away with a big smile on my face. It wouldn’t have made sense, after all, for the adults in my life to tell me such things if it was just empty words.
To get a child to step on the hamster wheel of “What Am I Going To Be When I Grow Up” requires careful conditioning. To get them to believe the idea that a career is the height of aspiration before they can say who they are, or like, spell P-I-Z-Z-A is an act of subversion, and the trick lay in confusing potential for identity.
In this instance of subversion, I changed my mind from beautician to doctor when I was seven thinking it was my idea to do so. Of course I would become a doctor because my guardians say doctors are smart — they say I am smart, too. But they did not say the same thing about being a beautician. Actually, they didn’t say anything about being a beautician. I don’t think they had to: In the lapse of silence where no real logic was provided, girl-me could only use my lack of permanence in yes or no, red or blue. If doctors were smart, then it had to be that beauticians were not.
On the very first page of Google, fate is described as “the development of events beyond a person’s control, regarded as determined by a supernatural power.” Further down, the search term “fate” also pulls up: brands, an anime called Fate/Stay Night, FATE the game, and the city of Fate, TX.
I find it easier to think of fate as an exercise in surrender. At birth we are christened like trees, vessels of infinite potential with every branch, twig, and leaf available to us. We can be anything we want; the amount of choice is nauseating.
Then you are pruned. The glimpse of every possible life path is brief — fresh from the dark of the womb, who you are born to can cull many wooden limbs. Be born poor or visibly marginalized and already you are condemned. Contract a fatal illness and the branch you climb can collapse. Many trees have wilted to dust before they could even grow their first leaf.
The rest of us clamor up the bark one stumbling, kid-drunk decision at a time. Most trees, with their multi-pronged limbs stretching toward the sky, promise the sun, but never from the same direction. Eventually, we must decide which view of the world we want to take, which branch to climb up next knowing that it will break and that we can’t go back down after. This, I believe, is fate.
Once upon a time I was sixteen and still undecided about my career (a fact that is fine and even perfectly normal for most sixteen-year-olds but was unacceptable to me). I was a few years removed from the death of my father and only months from my grandfather; the single shelter available to me was to take up residency with my older cousin, a choice I didn’t get to have and a choice I’m not sure I would have taken had I been presented with one.
One day, I remember watching a commercial advertising a trade school with a “fantastic opportunity” to become a welder. I knew how much I was enjoying my manufacturing class at school and so I allowed myself, however briefly, the luxury of fantasy. I relished in the abstract, filling in the blanks of what being a welder is like by visualizing the strike of the metal stick and all the sparks that would fly from it.
“I think it’d be fun to weld.” I announced to my older cousin when she strode into the room. She responded, with a wrinkling brow and worried expression, that “welding doesn’t make a lot of money. . . you should get a job where you can use your smarts more.”
I don’t know if I would have developed more interest in welding had my cousin not said that. I could have. I continued to enjoy the practiced art of joining metal for the remainder of the class, my hand a conductor, the metal, my baton. But once I passed with flying colors, I never took a class like that again, nor did I keep “welder” in my mind as a career path I could take.
Sometimes, I wonder. Was it because my cousin’s discouragement of avoiding poor people professions — to avoid my family’s “fate” of being poor — that the branch was clipped before I could grab it? Or was she just another agent acting through fate that was keeping me on a path I could not yet see?
There’s a wildly adorable cartoon series named Scissor Seven out on Netflix right now, a wuxia that delivers with equal parts comedy, action, and tragedy. In the season two finale, the protagonist Seven is locked in a deadly fight with a high ranking assassin, Redtooth. Their paths, in theory, never had to cross: Redtooth didn’t come invading Seven’s home (Chicken Island) because he has it out for Seven, nor was Seven even on his radar — Redtooth was there to get his seal removed from another island member (Chairman Jiang), and Seven was trying to chill out and serve up his delicious beef offal. Priorities, priorities!
Their paths cross anyway. Because Chairman Jiang and Redtooth take their fight to the park, and because Seven happens to be there, “circumstance” becomes “fate” when Redtooth starts brutalizing every islander who tries to stand up and fight against him. If Seven doesn’t want his friends to die, then he must intervene.
Seven isn’t the best fighter. This is not to say he’s a “bad” fighter, just one that is less practiced like Redtooth, creating a disparity that he finds himself unable to overcome. His efforts to stand up to Redtooth are met with a swift beating; Redtooth then valiantly holds Seven up by the neck and warns Jiang that if she doesn’t lift the seal he will “suck [Seven] dry of his blood.” Just beyond them, Seven sees his fallen comrades, despair spiraling in his eyes until his subconscious self emerges.
“You’re feeling helpless right now, aren’t you?”
The vision Seven’s mind conjures is another him, his “true” self. This is the Seven that is not a goof-off just trying to serve some beef offal, but the Seven who used to be the world’s most feared assassin before his amnesic spell two years prior.
Seven refutes when his subconscious declares that retrieving him will reinstate Seven’s full capabilities as a fighter (“I don’t want to be an assassin.”) Disappointed, the subconscious says simply that he can’t “because I am you.”
Yet Seven tries to resist again. He wants to know why he can’t just forsake his past and embrace a new future (“don’t I get a chance to choose?”) He, like many of us clamoring up our tree, wants to have some say in the trajectory of his life.
“No one can break away from their past.” The subconscious insists. “No one can break away from their fate. ”
Here’s what astrology has to do with fate: The Lunar Nodes are two mathematical points in the sky, a calculation of the Moon’s orbit when it crosses the ecliptic (the 2D plane of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun). The point on the Northern hemisphere (above) becomes the North Node, and the point on the Southern hemisphere (below) becomes the South Node.
And here are some common keywords the astrology community (generally) agree on:
- North Node Associations: Your present lifetime, future goals, where you desire to grow, unfamiliar territory, insight into soul self
- South Node Associations: Your previous lifetime(s), familiar talents, “been there, done that,” comfortable but predictable territory, skills you accumulate without much effort
Watching Seven struggle, and then give in, to his fate is how it feels to be pulled compulsively by the nodes, back and forth and back again. It’s more pleasant for him to be ignorant and serve beef offal because the alternative is accepting the tragedy that comes with being a Shadow Killer. But he gives in anyway, a seeming inevitability because who can resist the call when it’s time to jump?
Astrology itself is mythology; metaphor. It has meaning to us because we create meaning for it and get meaning from it. That doesn’t mean you should give in, embrace total fatalism, and blame the bad things you do on a transit or placement without a willingness to examine your own culpability in the matter. I just think it’s funny to laugh at coincidence sometimes. Like it’s weird that I can, if I want to, explain away my cross-country move after high school to go to some hippy-dippy liberal arts college as me “living through my Sagittarius north node.” Or that I can justify my extreme obsession with career as a shadowed manifestation of my “8th house Capricorn stellium.”
All I mean to say is: if astrology is not real, then at least the idea of it is.
If fate is not real, then at least the idea of it is.
The technicalities of a Nodal Return can be explained but are best understood when felt. Think about it. What happened to you when you were eighteen that made you realize you could not undo the way you stumbled forward into adulthood? What moment do you think about taking back before realizing that you can’t imagine life without it?
When I was eighteen, it was the leap of faith to leave home for college. I think we all take those but I only emphasize it here because I felt so laughably unfit to take that leap, having been more of a ghost than a girl as a teenager. I hated being perceived when all I had so often wanted was to just exist inside my head.
My head. It became an endless sprawl of thought subsumed by binge-watching anime and reading fanfiction on the internet late at night. I did this because puberty, duh, but also as a defense mechanism from my older cousin’s abuse. To disappear inside my head was the greatest vanishing act I could perform; it was a feat meant to leave my corporeal form in the living room/bedroom/kitchen/wherever I was getting yelled while my spirit hid behind my soundproof barrier.
The idea of leaving the state once it was presented to me meant that I would have to leave my head. My Gemini South node made me hesitant. What if I couldn’t survive “out there?” So many unknowns in buying plane tickets and taxi rides, in charting land I’d never tread and meeting people I wasn’t sure I wanted to be around. The doubt, at times, was more frightening than the misery — I suppose that was just a consequence of having no self-confidence.
But that is the miracle of the Universe and, to me, of God. Even I, the lamb-legged, confidence lacking girl who was learning to believe what others had said about me more than of myself, had decided that I would go no matter what. And when I had booked that one-way plane ticket to the middle of nowhere, Ohio, my bank account flatlining near zero after I hit purchase, I only now realize that it was always going to happen. The doubt was for nothing.
“The problem is choice.”
In the 2003 movie Matrix: Reloaded, the now-famous scene in which protagonist Neo confronts the maker of the matrix (The Architect) to save his comrades on Zion leaps out as a perfect example of fate, free will, and how much we have of either. As The Architect answers Neo’s probing questions, myriad more versions of him appear around them on old computer monitors. Sometimes, these versions all coalesce into agreement over an answer, no one Neo distinguishable from one another. Other times, they can be seen shouting and twitching and shaking their heads in response — a show of free will.
Then Neo is confronted with a more difficult decision. He is prompted by The Architect to either surrender himself to The Source and save a designated fraction of people on Zion, or he can go back to The Matrix and try to save his lover, Trinity, from dying in combat.
“As you adequately put, the problem is choice.” The Architect goads, watching all the Neos’ expressions turn to steel. “But we already know what you’re going to do, don’t we?”
Neo chooses the left door that leads back to The Matrix. There is not a single version of him that chooses different.
When I turned twenty-seven last January, I moved to Seattle. There were a lot of reasons — the scene in Ann Arbor was boring me, I’d probably “find my people” if I go to a city that fits my personality better, my life felt like it was going to waste and the pandemic was triggering an existential crisis — but none on my mind as much as getting my business off the ground.
Long-time readers of this site might recall such a time. Vaingloriously, I had tried to be both an intimacy coach and an MFA student after convincing myself that I still had to work while finishing school. Sure, most students do, but why this instead of a regular job leaves a lot of asking room. Like, why was I forcing myself to pick up extra credentials like a whole ass master’s degree wasn’t enough? Or, why I am I in a business where I pose in lingerie and throw out tips on how to masturbate if I hate making my sexuality public?
If your first nodal return is about stumbling forward toward fate, then the reverse nodal return is tripping backwards into it. For myself, I had tried like a car trapped in mud to keep spin-spin-spinning my wheels toward what I thought would advance my career quicker, fuck all that patience shit. If I could become a renowned author with a successful coaching business by myself, I wouldn’t have to keep grinding my ass off with “nothing” to show for it. Finally, said my ego, I will benefit from my hard work.
The problem is choice.
Fatalism sounds like a tragic word. In The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, fatalism is defined as a “what will be will be” state of mind, a philosophical bent that says with a casual shrug ‘you can’t change what will happen to you.’ To embrace the idea that some higher power beyond us determines what happens next, always — could it be anything else if not tragic?
The Encyclopedia of Ethics resists this take, reframing fatalism as the following:
“Fatalism can be understood as the doctrine that it is a logical or conceptual truth that agents are never free to do other than what they actually do.”The Encyclopedia of Ethics, entry by John Martin Fischer
It may not seem so at first blush. Look closer: the idea that being fatalistic is not a condemnation of our inability to change what will happen, but a celebration of our will to try, anyway, regardless of whether or not we know we will succeed. And it is not as if we never succeed when you look at the arc of Earth’s history. Who else if not us razes the forests and poisons the ocean? Who, if not us, has turned the proverbial heater up on the world and raised it 2°C over the last century? We are so powerful, scientists have named our current geological era the Anthropocene.
Perhaps the absurdity is knowing that all we do here doesn’t even register as a grain of sand on the universe’s scale. That’s the point: real fatalism is not embracing nothingness as a response to living. Real fatalism is knowing that we get to bask in the glory of our finiteness and still make choices, no matter how insignificant that choice ends up being in the grand sprawl of the cosmos.
A good case study offers up evidence after making claims, so here’s a few of my reverse nodal return/”I climbed the branch” moments:
- In May, I signed up to take a teaching course for my graduating residency figuring it’d be good to know the basics (“just in case.”) After I had presented my lesson, my students — three classmates and my professor — told me that I was great teacher with a “natural knack” for assessing student’s needs. It had felt like coming home after a long, long journey.
- Over the summer, I was emerging from a dark night of the soul. I destroyed the business like I was trying to set a house on fire, wanting all the rot I had felt to disappear into the smoke. I also updated my websites, my resume; travelled to reconnect with old friends; broke up with my ex; threw out every last app and appliance and one-sided connection I had felt could not come with.
- Late August. As all good Seattlites are want to do, I went to down to a lake to swim. My friend would introduce me to her friend who had just moved back after a long stint in California; he approached me from the shore, waving at me in his grey cotton shorts and open-chested hakama. This is now my fiancé’-to-be.
I can say many things about these moments — that they were insightful, moving, a profound reminder from God to be in tune with my own divinity. But even after all this talk of fate and choice, I can only say this: belief begets belief. This does not exclude poor odds and the slew of obstacles we face, only that sometimes the only way to change is to make a choice. It is both that easy and that difficult.
About The Author
Jasmine Lomax (she/her) is a poet, aspiring educator, and events organizer who currently resides in Seattle, Washington. When Jasmine isn’t busy ticking away at the computer, she enjoys reading, swimming, tending to her spiritual studies, and the occasional bout of crying over fictional characters.