When you hear the word ‘planets,’ you probably think of the Solar System -- as in, My Very Eager Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas. Ever heard that one? It’s a mnemonic device used to memorize the order of the planets; Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto.
The planets were in a certain, distinctive pattern in the sky at the exact moment that you were born, and a map of their configuration is called your natal chart, or birth chart. Each planet represents something in itself -- your personality (Sun), the way you think (Mercury), the way you love (Venus) and so on -- but together, the angles and connections among all of them also paint a highly specific and accurate portrait of who you are as an individual.
Some people like to claim that astrology doesn’t work -- that it provides only generic information that could be applied to anyone. But take a look at a reading of your birth chart, and you’ll find out just how specific the information gets! You’ll be amazed by the picture of you that astrology paints, including in-depth analysis of your emotional life, your dreams and motivations and your subconscious drives.
The idea of rulerships is a very old astrological concept. Each planet is said to ‘rule’ one or more astrological signs, meaning that the planet governs or is connected intimately to the characteristics of that sign. For most of astrology’s history, only the visible planets were known and used.
The traditional system of rulerships is a tidy, self-enclosed, integrated system that many astrologers still prefer to use today. In this system, the Sun and the Moon each rule only one sign: Leo and Cancer, respectively. All the other planets rule two signs, one by day and one by night: Mars rules Aries and Scorpio, Venus rules Taurus and Libra, Mercury rules Gemini and Virgo, Jupiter rules Sagittarius and Pisces, and Saturn rules both Capricorn and Aquarius.
Since the discovery of the three outermost planets, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, the rulerships have changed somewhat. Uranus is now considered the ruler of Aquarius; Neptune is the modern-day ruler of Pisces, and Pluto is said to rule Scorpio.
A planet is considered to be at its strongest when it is located in the sign it rules. The planet is able to perform comfortably, in an environment that supports it and brings out its best traits.
A third feature of the traditional rulership system is called exaltations. There are certain signs in which any given planet is supported and strengthened. One of them is the sign the planet rules. Another is the sign of its exaltation. When a planet is in its exaltation, it is said to be ‘an honored guest.’ That is, the planet has many privileges there and the positioning is basically quite beneficial, but there are still certain restrictions on the planet. Nonetheless, it’s considered a strengthening influence secondary only to rulership.
The Sun is exalted in Aries, and the Moon in comfort-loving Taurus. Mercury is exalted in Virgo, one of the signs it also rules. Venus is exalted when in sweet Pisces, and Mars when in Capricorn, which steadies and directs Mars’s forceful energy. Jupiter is exalted in Cancer, and Saturn in Libra. The newer planets, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, do not have exaltations, although some astrologers have assigned them.
It’s important to remember that these terms are not judgmental terms, and refer only to a planet’s strength or lack of it. Planets are strongest -- that is, their best qualities are emphasized -- when in their signs of rulership and exaltation.
‘Detriment’ is another term in the traditional astrology rulership technique that is used to determine the relative strength of planets. A planet is in detriment when it is in the sign opposite to the sign it rules. For instance, Mars rules Aries. When Mars is in Libra, the sign opposite to Aries, Mars is said to be in detriment. This simply means that the qualities of Mars are not strengthened when it is in Libra, and it’s easy to see why! Mars is strong and decisive, while Libra tends to vacillate and equivocate. Mars feel frustrated and tentative while in Libra. And so it is with all the planets in their detriment: They are simply not able to utilize their strengths properly. The planets are not supported in the sign of their detriment.
The Sun rules Leo, so it is in detriment when in Aquarius. The Moon, which rules Cancer, is in detriment when it is in ambitious Capricorn. Mercury, which rules both Gemini and Virgo, therefore is in detriment in both Sagittarius and Pisces. Venus also rules two signs, Taurus and Libra, and consequently it is in detriment when it is in either Scorpio or Aries. Jupiter, which rules Sagittarius, is in detriment in Gemini, and Saturn, which rules Capricorn, is in detriment in Cancer.
Many techniques of traditional astrology are still observed today, and one of them is the technique of rulerships. Each planet has a sign that it rules. The sign opposite is considered the planet’s detriment. There’s another sign where the planet is considered well-placed, which is called the sign of exaltation. And opposite this sign is the sign of the planet’s fall. A planet is considered weakened if it is in either the sign of its detriment or its fall. The best characteristics of the planet are not supported by these signs.
The Sun is in its fall in Libra, because Libra is opposite of Aries, which is the sign of the Sun’s exaltation. The Moon is in its fall in Scorpio. Venus, the Love Planet, has its fall in Virgo, and Mars, the Passion Planet, has its fall in Cancer. Jupiter’s fall is in Capricorn, and Saturn’s in Aries.
It’s important to remember that these terms are not judgmental terms, and refer only to a planet’s strength or lack of it. When a planet is in the sign of its detriment or its fall, the energy of the planet is not supported by the sign. The planet is not able to act freely. Therefore, these are considered weakened positions for any planet.
Our solar system is comprised of nine planets and various smaller objects such as asteroids and comets, all of which orbit around the brightest and warmest object, the Sun. Each planet has its own 'orbital cycle' -- that is, how long it takes to circle completely around the Sun. ‘Interior’ planets are the fast-moving planets between Earth and the Sun. ‘Exterior’ planets are those beyond Earth and have longer orbits. The planets furthest from the Sun have the longest orbits. Also, each planet has physical qualities that make it unique.
Every planet except the Sun and Moon has its own 'retrograde cycle' too. Remember, retrograde motion is an optical illusion caused by a faster planet outpacing a slower planet in their respective orbits. Think of two runners on a circular track. The runner in the inner lane usually gains distance over a runner in an outer lane. It’s the same with the planets, and the changing relationships between planets and the Earth sometimes make it seem that planets are moving backwards against the backdrop of the zodiac. The energy of the planet is directed inward during retrograde periods.
Each planet also has its own cycle of visibility, except Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, which aren’t visible without a telescope. In fact, some of our interpretations for the planets come from factors related to their visibility, such as the fleeting nature of Mercury or the limits of Saturn.
An astrological chart is cast for the moment a person draws their first breath. After a person is born, the planets continue to move through each of the zodiac signs until, sooner or later, they each return to the original degree and sign they were in at the time of birth.
However, humans don't live long enough to witness the complete revolution of every planet. We usually live to see many entire revolutions of interior planets and some of the exterior planets. The return of a planet to its natal position indicates a focus on the activities of that planet.