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Moon Swings - The Lunar Standstill Cycle

by Linea Van Horn

Callanish Standing
Stones Outer HebridesOur companion the Moon has a wonderful, little-known but highly visible cycle which anyone can watch unfold over the next several years. I speak of the “Standstill Cycle of the Moon,” a pattern of lunar visibility which dramatically affects where Luna rises and sets, bringing highly unusual event locations when it reaches its extremes. The last occurrence was in 2006. The next event, called a Major Standstill, arrives in 2025. If that sounds far away, trust me when I say it will pass in the proverbial blink of an eye! And fortified with the knowledge you are about to gain, you will observe the Moon with new eyes, knowing exactly what to look for as the Moon’s swings become ever wider.

The Standstill Cycle may be news in the modern era, but our ancient sky-watching ancestors grasped it thoroughly. In fact, they found it important enough to build stone monuments to mark the precise locations where these extreme risings and settings of the Moon took place. Dozens of such sites still exist, and who knows how many that are now extinct or unrecognized. They did not go to all this trouble for no reason.

Declination – Why Should You Care?

Lines of declinationOne of the most important considerations of visual planetary work is where on the horizon a planet is rising or setting. This is a function of declination, and if your eyes just glazed over like donuts, please come back. Truly, it’s simple. Declination is a measurement that occurs north and south of the equator. If you imagine a globe, it is equivalent to extending lines of latitude out into space.

Declination determines where a planet will rise and set, and how high it will get in the sky. Any time you have seen a sunrise or sunset, or watched the Moon or any other planet rise or set, you were having an experience in declination, and you didn’t even know!

Sun rising in the
skyThe visual part of declination is easiest understand when considering the Sun’s solstices. You will have observed personally that the Sun rises at a different place on your horizon in June than it does in December, and shines through different windows during the course of the day. This is declination in action.

Declination graphFigure 4 shows the Sun’s changes in declination over the course of a year. At the Equinoxes, which occur in March and September, the Sun’s declination is 0. In December, it’s at its maximum (23.25 degrees) south declination. It changes direction and heads towards the June solstice where the solar declination is 23.25 North.

Solar yearFrom our perspective on earth, the solar year looks like this: this figure shows a six month range of the Sun.

In December, the Sun will rise and set far south, and stay low in the sky, creating short days here in the Northern Hemisphere where I live. The farther north a planet rises and sets, the higher it will culminate. It’s opposite in the Southern Hemisphere; southerly planets have higher culmination. The word “solstice” actually means “Sun standing” (“Sol” = Sun; “stit”= to make stand) and is the place where the Sun literally does pause and change direction at the apex months of December and June. (See Figure 4)

The solstices mark the maximum points on your local horizon where the Sun will rise and set. In December, it’s at its furthest south. In June, it rises and sets furthest north. If you are at the equator, the difference of the two solstice sunrise points along your visible horizon is less than 50 degrees (only about 1/8 of the entire 360-degree horizon). But the further away from the equator one is the more extreme the distance between these rising points. Finally, above latitudes of about 60 degrees North and South, the Sun refuses to rise or set at all for weeks at a time. What a world we live on!

Another fun declination fact is that no matter where you are on the planet, twice a year, the Sun will rise due east and set due west. This occurs on the Equinoxes. Sunrise and sunset on these days are the easiest times to directly mark the cardinal directions on your personal horizon view.

Declination chartYou might have already deduced that there’s a direct relationship between declination and the zodiac. After all, the ecliptic (path of the Sun) crosses the equator (0 degrees of declination) twice a year – when the Sun is either 0 degrees of Aries or Libra. In fact, the very definition of the equinox is when the Sun crosses the equator! At the June solstice, the Sun is at 0 degrees of Cancer, and at the December solstice, it’s at 0 degrees of Capricorn, and these turning points are as far away from the equator/0 degrees of declination as can be. This is the foundation and the legitimacy of the tropical zodiac.

It’s easy to understand that Cancer and Capricorn are far apart in the sky, and you have the Sun to help you identify where they are on your personal horizon. Understanding this simple fact is the key to observation of the grand unfolding of the Major Standstill.

Learning from the Moon

The Moon is our Teacher. While the apparent habits of the Sun (actually, the Earth) are extremely regular and consistent, the Moon is much more difficult to understand and even harder to predict. Its monthly phases are apparent and influential: indeed the Moon in the first marker of time. Because she is fastest in motion, and has the most visible variability of any planet, many principles of sky watching and of astrology in general are telescoped into understanding by watching the Moon.

The Sun, Moon (and in fact all the planets, but that’s beyond the scope of this article!) have a similar wavelike pattern of rising and setting points along the horizon (see Figure 5). This wave is measured in declination which is hinged to the zodiac. However, the Moon differs in some important ways!

Sun-Moon declinationThe first difference is that the Moon swings much more rapidly than the Sun! It takes Old Sol six full months between turnarounds, a downright sluggish pace when compared with the Moon, who takes only two weeks! Check it out.

Consider again: Between one turnaround point to the next, the Moon moves in fourteen days as much as the Sun does in six months. The turnaround points always happen at 0 degrees of Cancer and Capricorn.

In December, as it approaches the solstice point, the Sun is at its furthest south. We’re told it hangs out there “for three days,” but in fact if you examine a declination ephemeris, you’ll see it stays at the same degree of declination for a full three weeks! It rises at exactly the same point on the horizon, not changing in declination, even as it continues to move through the zodiac. (That’s because it’s really the earth, not the Sun that is moving!) The solstice occurs right in the middle of this three-week period. Ephemeris So at its southernmost position, the Sun is in Sagittarius and Capricorn. AND SO IS THE MOON and all the planets! Check both things out in this declination ephemeris for December 2017: The Sun is at 23 degrees south of declination from December 11 – 31. Right in the middle is the solstice on the 22nd. Then check out the Moon: its maximum declination this month is 20 degrees south and this occurs on December 19th. Checking in the left table, we see that the Moon is in Capricorn on that day. This particular month, the New Moon in Capricorn is happening very near the solstice. It isn’t always this way, though. The Moon’s phases operate independently from the seasonal cycle, although they do interact in a predictable manner.

Think of this: When full, the Moon is opposite to the Sun not only in zodiacal longitude but also in declination.  This means that when the Sun rises and sets at its northernmost and achieves its greatest altitude near the summer solstice, the full Moon rises far south and rides low in the sky.  In the winter, when the Sun rises and sets far south, the full Moon is high in the sky, as well as rising and setting at its northernmost point.

Every month when the Moon is in Sagittarius and Capricorn, it will be in your southern sky, more or less near to the path the Sun follows in December. Two weeks later, when the Moon transits Gemini and Cancer, it will be considerably further north and much higher in the sky, close to the Sun’s June path. This is true no matter what phase the Moon is in, so you already have it within your reach to really grasp this visual principal by seeking out the Moon in the sky when it transits these four signs. Except for the new moon, the Moon will be visible in the sky at some point in the day or night!


In addition to speed, another way that the Moon’s declination cycle deviates from that of the Sun is in what we might call “amplitude.” While the solstice points of the Sun are consistent, the Moon’s pattern is more like a tide going in and out. When traced out on a graph, the swings are clear.

The declination scheme seen below is easy to understand: Across the top, time units are designated. Down the left, the decrees of declination are marked at 5-degree intervals north and south. 0 degrees is right in the middle. The graph only goes up to 30 degrees (in both directions) because nothing we use extends beyond this boundary.

Sun swingsObserve 3 years of the Sun’s declination swings (Figure 9). Each peak is located at 23.25 degrees North or South. The Sun’s extreme declination varies only a tiny bit over long periods of time, so it can be considered very stable. The points occur every six months, and each year contains a north and south point. And where do these peaks occur? All together now: The Solstices! Cancer (North) and Capricorn (South)!

Moon Swings 2015Unlike the Sun, there is dramatic variability in the Moon’s waves. There are years at a time when it never reaches the Sun’s turnaround point, having what we might call “low amplitude.” Here’s a graph of the Moon’s declination for 90 days starting Sept. 10, 2015. Notice that the maximum declination maxes out at just over 18 degrees. Remember, the Sun achieves 23.25 degrees – an addition five degrees! This may not seem like much, but when extended outward onto your horizon or into the sky, it’s quite a bit of real estate.

Moon Swings 2006At other times, things are different. Here are the Moon’s swings in declination for 90 days starting June 15, 2006. Notice how extreme the swings are! Now this is “high amplitude!”

The two extremes are called the Minor and the Major Standstill.

They are connected to the Nodes of the Moon. It’s quite simple, really. We have the Major Standstill when the North Node is in Aries. The swings are at their widest, over 29 degrees of declination – the furthest of any planet! When the North Node transits through Libra, we have the Minor Standstill, and the swings have their smallest amplitude, reaching just over 18 degrees of declination.

When projected out onto the horizon, this phenomenon produces huge variations in the locations of Moon risings and settings, and how high the Moon gets in the sky. It was these visual extremes that our forebears acknowledged with their stone monuments.

SolargraphTo get a better understanding, let’s start again with the Sun. A photographic technique called a solargraph will help tremendously. In this technique, a camera is anchored and programmed to capture regularly timed images of the Sun’s daily motion over a period of at least six months. Here’s one from the Netherlands by Jip Lambermont(1). Each line records the Sun’s motion for one day. The bottom line shows the December Solstice. Note the low profile in the sky, and location of rising and setting points. Six months later is the June Solstice is represented by the top line: notice how far the Sun’s rising and setting points have moved (in fact they’re off the graph) and how high the Sun climbs in the sky. This is a photographic representation of the principles of declination. You can see how dramatically different is the Sun’s path between June (Cancer) and December (Capricorn).

There are no similar photographic records of the Lunar Standstill process; it would be impossible.  Still, it’s possible to visualize the difference between the Minor and the Major Standstill. The following diagram is complex but informative. Put yourself in the middle and check out the following: First locate the Solstice sunrises and sunsets. These rising and setting points are consistent, year in and year out.

Lunar changesNow locate the “minor standstill” moonrise and moonsets (the inner curved dotted line). Notice that the rising and setting points never reach the Sun’s turnaround points – in fact, they fall several degrees short. The swings of the moon (which remember takes only two weeks, from one turnaround point to the next) are not dramatic and produce very sedate lunar changes from day to day.

Now locate the “major standstill” moonrise and moonsets, shown by the outer curved dotted lines. Notice how much more distance is covered between respective Moonrises at the Major Standstill than at the Minor Standstill.  Remember that the time lapse between the Northern Moonset and the Southern Moonset is only two weeks. During these times, the daily difference in the location of the Moon is remarkable. On your visible horizon, it makes an astounding difference in where you see the Moon from one day to the next.

Variations in azimuth of
MoonriseHere’s another way to look at it: In Figure 14 you can see the stability of the Solar Solstice sunrises and sunsets. You can also determine that in some years (1993 – 2000) the moonrises and moonsets never reached the point where the solstice Sun rises and sets. Other years (2001 – 2011), moonrises and moonsets occur far outside the parameters of the solstice sunrises and sunsets.

HorizonThis diagram of the variations of risings and settings as seen along the horizon is very informative, bringing the whole concept down to earth: Where are we now in this process? Well – the North Node is just entering Leo as I write these words. So we are moving from a Minor Standstill (N.N. in Libra) towards a Major Standstill (N.N. in Aries), since the nodes move backwards. So we are currently shifting from a smaller, more sedate swing to the wider dramatic swings that will peak in 2025. That’s the point of this article and why it’s worthwhile to start watching it unfold now. When the Moon starts showing up in freakish places, you’re going to really appreciate what you’re seeing.

The Technical Stuff

Why does this happen?

tilted eclipticWe know that the earth is tilted with respect to its orbit around the Sun. That’s why we have seasons, the tropical zodiac and a host of other peculiarities. Just as the earth's axis is tilted to its orbit by 23.5 degrees, the Moon's orbit is tilted 5.2 degrees to the orbit of the earth (see diagram). Other perturbations can account for an additional .7 degrees variation, so the Moon's declination can differ from the Sun's by almost 6 degrees. This means that the Moon can achieve more than 29 degrees of declination (23.5 + 6), far more than any other planet. But it rarely does so!

Only in the years surrounding the Major Standstill, and only when the Moon is transiting Gemini, Cancer, Sagittarius or Capricorn will it reach this extreme.

Let’s review

The Major Standstill

The Moon reaches its most maximum declination of 29 degrees N and S when in the appropriate signs. Since it takes 14 days between the maximum northern and southern points, the Moon's daily changes in position are quite dramatic at this time. It will reach its maximum declination for 2 - 5 days twice a month for about 3 years around the time of the major standstill. Once or twice it will reach its very maximum declination, and this is set off by eclipses. It will rise and set noticeably more north and south than usual, and will attain its greatest height (north) and lowest position (south) in the sky. In fact, at in far north latitudes, the Moon is circumpolar at the major standstill. The greatest declination occurs when the moon's nodes are at O degrees of Aries.

Major Standstill Dates from 1900 – 2050 are:

  • 1913
  • 1931
  • 1950
  • 1969
  • 1987
  • 2006
  • 2025
  • 2043

The Minor Standstill

Nine years later, the Moon reaches its minor standstill. It follows exactly the same monthly motion pattern, however now it only reaches a maximum of 18 degrees declination for the 3 year period when the nodes reach O degrees Libra. Its monthly and daily swings are far less dramatic. It must be stressed that the Minor Standstill is not very noticeable or visually interesting except as a way to compare the more extreme swings. The Minor Standstill dates are 1941, 1959, 1978, 1997, 2015, 2034 and 2052.

The years in between, the Moon reaches ever increasing or decreasing monthly declinations as it moves between one standstill and the next. The most recent Minor Standstill was 2015. In June 2020, the Moon’s declination will finally reach the Sun’s maximum 23.25 degrees. After that, the Moon will begin to move beyond the Sun’s declination; a position called “Out of Bounds.(2)” We are moving towards a Major Standstill in 2025. 

Major standstills affect tides and weather conditions and probably other lunar related phenomenon such as birth rates, public reaction, real estate and the stock market (more volatile during Major Standstill) as well as the economy. Since the Moon repeatedly goes OOB, there may be an overly zealous public response. The further OOB, the stronger the response. There is a maverick quality. Reactions and perceptions are extreme and not as controlled. The environment is not very stable. At Minor Standstills, reaction is more controlled and action is taken.

What You’re Watching For

As I’ve repeatedly said, it’s really easy to observe what’s about to happen. Here’s how to do it:

  • Just like the Sun, the Moon will “turn around” when it enters either Cancer or Capricorn
  • Pay attention to your astrological calendar for the Moon either in:
    • Gemini or Cancer
    • Sagittarius or Capricorn
  • Go out and look for it!
  • The phase doesn’t matter! Except for the 3 dark days of the month, the Moon will be visible, very often in the daytime
  • Look again in two weeks when Moon is in the opposite signs
  • Notice the difference between the north and south extremes
  • Observe the amount of “swing” or distance between the two ends
  • Over the next 9 years, these “swings” will gradually increase
  • You become very familiar with your local sky with consistent viewing
  • With your Moon watching experience, you’ll be able to appreciate the unfolding of the Major Standstill before your very eyes!

My aspiration in writing this article is to encourage all astrologers to have an intimate relationship with the sky. It’s all about bringing heaven down to earth. We have in our immediate future a wonderful opportunity to engage in a marvelous unfolding of the Standstill Cycle of the Moon. It thrilled our ancestors. Let us, as the guardians of this body of knowledge, once again grasp the profound wonder of participating in it.

1 For more information on his fascinating solargraphs visit http://zonnekijkster.dse.nl/solargraph/
2 Out of Bounds is a fascinating topic beyond the scope of this article. Karen Christino and Stephen Forrest have done excellent work on interpreting out of bounds Moon. Tony Howard specializes in out of bounds Mercury, Venus and Mars.

Sources, references and additional information:
Brown, Peter L. Megaliths, Myths and Men:  An Introduction to Astro-Astronomy
Boehrer, Kt  Declination, The Other Dimension
Cornelius, Geoffrey, Secret Language of the Stars and Planets
Goodale, Rene, "Venus Out of Bounds" Geocosmic Magazine, Fall 1996
Hebel, Doris A. "Progressed Declinations" NCGR Journal, Fall 1997
Jayne,  Charles, Parallels of Declination
Krupp, Dr. C.E., Echoes of the Ancient Skies: The Astronomy of Lost Civilizations
Krupp, Dr. C.E., Beyond the Blue Horizon: Myths and Legends of the Sun, Moon, Stars and Planets
Scofield, Bruce: "The Moon and the Megaliths: The Mountain Astrologer (TMA), June 1996
Westin, Leigh:  Beyond the Solstice by Declination Willner, John: The Powerful Declinations
The following articles from NCGR Geocosmic Magazine, Spring 1998
Westin,  Leigh,  "What on Earth is Declination"
Christino, Karen, "The Progressed Moon in Declination"
Ramsey, Martha,  "Declination - the Basics"
Gillman, Ken, "Stations of the Moon"
McEvoy, Francis, "Out of Bounds Gallery"
Vaughan, Valerie,  "Occultation:  The Conjunction in Longitude and Declination"
More information on solargraphs: http://zonnekijkster.dse.nl/solargraph/
More information on the Standstill Cycle: http://www.umass.edu/sunwheel/pages/moonteaching.html and http://www.geoastro.de/sunmoonpolar/
Astrid Fallon’s excellent site:  http://www.fallonastro.com/
More information on archeoastronomy and ancient sites: http://www.megalithicsites.co.uk/Archaeoastonomy/Megalithic_Lunar_Astronomy/ and http://www.umass.edu/sunwheel/pages/moonteaching.html
Information on Callanish: http://geo.org/callan.htm 

Image sources:
Declination and Zodiac: K.T. Boehrer: Declination, the outer dimension
Ephemeris: Rosicrucian Ephemeris for the 21st century
Solargraph: Jib Lambermont, http://zonnekijkster.dse.nl/solargraph/
Major and minor standstills: http://www.umass.edu/sunwheel/pages/moonteaching.html
Variations in lunar risings and settings: http://www.geoastro.de/sunmoonpolar/
Risings and settings along the horizon: Juri V. Stork, Astrodienst

First published in: www.infinityastrologicalmagazine.com, May/Jun 2017.

Linea Van HornLinea Van Horn, C.A., NCGR, is the Astrologer at Large. Linea is Founder and President Emerita of the San Francisco Astrological Society (1992-2014) and has served on three NCGR boards, including the Board of Examiners. Formerly employed in the astrology Internet industry, Linea is a respected teacher, published author, and popular, lively public speaker. She now devotes herself to client work, teaching, writing, and community building in the San Francisco Bay Area. Visit Linea's website: www.astrologeratlarge.com
Member of AFAN, ISAR and OPA.
Email Linea: linea@astrologeratlarge.com

© 2017 - Linea Van Horn - published by Infinity Astrological Magazine

Current Planets
19-Aug-2017, 07:11 UT/GMT
Sun2630' 6"12n41
Jupiter1946' 6"6s41
Pluto1714' 6"r21s38
Chiron2753' 3"r2n50
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