When people begin to learn about astrology, they often start by studying the signs of the zodiac. There’s nothing particularly wrong about this approach, but I think there’s a better way. Specifically, I think it’s better to begin by looking at the planets.
When an astrologer looks at a chart, they almost always begin by taking note of the rising sign, but from then on it’s pretty much the planets’ show. Which planets rule which houses, where those planets are in the chart, and which aspects they make to each other are all of crucial importance. In fact, these three basic relationships (what a planet rules, where it is, and which aspects it forms) constitute about ninety percent of the information an astrologer needs to make their interpretations.
Because the planets sometimes get short shrift, let’s take a look at them now. I’ll cover each of their basic significations, where they tend to be stronger or weaker in influence, and how we usually experience their effects in our daily lives.
This won’t be a comprehensive guide to absolutely everything you can know about the planets, but I will try to cover enough ground help you find your feet.
One caveat, though: I generally stick to the seven traditional planets. I don’t exactly ignore the “modern” ones, but I don’t assign them signs to rule, nor do I put especial emphasis on them in an individual’s chart. I’ll cover some of their significations and meanings in their proper place, but you might want to follow up this post with some additional reading if you’re really into learning about them in detail.
In astrology, the Moon primarily signifies change, inconstancy, and variability. This is due partly to the speed at which it moves in the heavens, but it’s also because of the Moon’s changing phases. The phases of the Moon are often tied to ideas of birth, life, death, and rebirth. As such, in traditional astrology it is usually connected with ideas about the physical body.
You’ll also find the Moon linked to ideas about emotions, because we tend to experience our feelings as ebbing and flowing rather like the tides of the ocean. And because of its obvious connection with water, the Moon is said to govern those who fish, as well as those who sail.
There’s an unavoidable “gendered” component to the Moon found in most of the traditional literature, which connects to the Moon to midwives, nurses, and “all manner of Women.” Take this or leave this as you will.
People with a strong affinity for the Moon are often perceived as being “soft” or “tender.” They enjoy newness, sometimes to the point of seeming to flit from one thing or interest to another. They usually focus on either the here and now, or else seek comfort and peace in the present, perhaps at the expense of planning for the future.
In magic, the Moon often serves as one of the major “timing devices” for rituals or enchantments It’s phase, the sign it is in, and its overall condition are very important considerations for astrologers and magicians when it comes to choosing dates and times at which to work. For instance, it is commonly thought that the waxing Moon is good for bringing new things into existence, while the waning Moon is good for letting things go or sending them away.
The Moon rules the sign of Cancer, and is exalted in the sign of Taurus. It has its detriment in the sign of Capricorn, and its fall in the sign of Scorpio.
If you observe Mercury closely throughout the year, you’ll notice that this planet not only moves very quickly, but it also changes direction more often than any other planet. Because of this, the astrological meanings of Mercury are bound up in the ideas of speed, athleticism, and the mental equivalent of these: cleverness and wit.
Communication, education, language, and debate are all significations of Mercury. Teachers, scientists, and even astrologers are all counted among the professions which Mercury governs. You’ll also find trade, commerce, and money connected to the planet Mercury (hence the words mercantile and merchant). Of Mercury’s “less savory” significations, you’ll find tricksters, con artists, and thieves.
In our modern age, Mercury is often seen as intricately woven into our electronics, particularly those electronic devices we use for communication. This is why few astrologers are surprised when their computers go on the fritz as Mercury turns retrograde. In a similar vein, Mercury is connected to transportation, especially that sort used for short-distance or daily travel, such as the car you drive to work.
Mercury rules the signs of Gemini and Virgo, and it is also said to be exalted in the sign of Virgo. It has its detriment in the sign of Sagittarius, and its detriment and fall in Pisces.
“She is of a bright shining colour, and is well known amongst the vulgar by the name of the evening Star of Hesperus; and that is when she appears after the Sun is set: common people call her the morning Star, and the learned Lucifer, when she is seen long before the rising of the Sun.”
This quote from the astrologer William Lilly best describes the dual nature of Venus, as the planet is considered in traditional astrology. Venus is usually seen as the planet most closely associated with love, merriment, and all things beautiful. That said, Venus is also associated with the excesses of these. Love gives way to lust, merriment is replaced by disrepute and lewdness, and beauty becomes vanity and pride—this latter being the cause of Lucifer’s fall.
In terms of activities and professions, Venus is associated with artists, jewelers, actors, and makers of all fine and high-quality things with aesthetic value. It rules over love matters, but also friendly relationships in a more general sense. Marriage is another obvious connection, which is why most astrologers like to see Venus well-situated in a chart when they’re using electional astrology to plan the time of a wedding.
Venus rules the signs of Taurus and Libra, has its detriment in the signs of Aries and Scorpio, and has its fall in Virgo.
Because “Sun Sign Astrology” became so popular during the last century, people tend to put a bit more emphasis on the Sun than they should. This isn’t to say that the Sun isn’t important—quite the opposite—but rather it shouldn’t be seen as so important that we ignore the other planets.
In traditional astrology, the Sun is in the middle of the planetary scheme, and it is identified with many Solar gods such as Apollo and Osiris. It is associated with kings, emperors, and other nobles. Officers of the court are also under the Sun’s rulership.
The Sun is associated with honor, distinction, and magnificence. It’s also associated with arrogance, pride, and domineering behavior. It’s where we “shine brightest,” but it can also cause a desire in us to outshine everyone else.
In practical terms, many of today’s astrologers think of the Sun as being connected to the “ego,” or otherwise indicative of someone’s basically personality or attitude. More broadly, where the Sun is located in your chart can indicate the approach to life which you tend to “lean into.”
The Sun rules the sign of Leo, is exalted in Aries, and has its detriment in the sign of Aquarius. Its fall is in Libra.
The planet Mars is most commonly associated with war, violence, separation, and conflict. In more “polite” terms, Mars is the planet of energy and action, especially action taken in haste. As a result, it’s usually viewed as one of the more challenging planets in a chart. This is fair, to an extent, but Mars has its constructive side, too.
Mars may rule over conflict and separation, but sometimes conflict is necessary. When there are things in your life which you know you should let go of, Mars is there to cut the ties that bind you to it. Speaking of cutting, Mars also rules over surgery, barbers, and even chefs. Wherever you see fire and knives, Mars is there.
Courage, passion, and the willingness to fight no matter the odds are all very Martial traits. Sometimes these are good things to embrace, and sometimes not.
Mars rules the signs of Aries and Scorpio, and it’s exalted in Capricorn. It has its detriment in the signs of Libra and Taurus, and its fall in Cancer.
In astrology, the planet Jupiter is often called the “Greater Benefic,” and most people tend to experience it in a very positive way. Jupiter represents those things and people which are faithful, ambitious (in an honorable way), and of benefit to all persons. Charity and goodwill, abundance as well as prudence are also common significations.
Jupiter is the planet of good fortune, justice, and it is sometime considered the planet most likely to bring one luck.
That said, Jupiter does have its downsides. As with all good things, too much of them can cause trouble. Charity can become overspending or overextending oneself. Ideas of “justice” can become tyrannical, or lead to someone adopting standards which are impossible to meet. Have you ever seen someone utterly condemn an otherwise “good person” because they held one, single, “wrong” opinion? That’s Jupiter as its worst.
Judges, lawyers, politicians, priests, and scholars of higher learning are all associated with Jupiter.
The planet Jupiter rules the signs of Sagittarius and Pisces, and is exalted in the sign of Cancer. Jupiter has its detriment in the signs of Gemini and Virgo, and its fall in Capricorn.
The planet Saturn is sometimes called the “Greater Malefic,” and while it can be constructive, it is usually experienced in challenging or inconvenient ways.
Of the seven traditional planets, Saturn moves the slowest, and so it’s associated with all things sluggish and difficult to move or move past. In a nutshell, Saturn is the planet which says “No.” It’s the planet of limitations and barriers.
It is associated with death, austerity, suspicion, and old age. Typical professions linked with Saturn include miners, grave diggers, and plumbers. If it’s dark and underground, chances are good that Saturn is involved.
On the positive side, Saturn’s limits aren’t always a bad thing. Structure and boundaries can be very important, both for individuals and for society as a whole. We might not be delighted when we run up against such obstacles, but life would be very hard to manage without at least some organization or structure.
Saturn rules the signs of Capricorn and Aquarius, and it has its exaltation in the sign of Libra. It has its detriment in the signs of Leo and Cancer, and its fall in Aries.
Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto
As someone who leans pretty heavily on traditional astrology, I don’t spend a lot of time with the so-called “modern” planets: Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. I definitely see a role for them in the context of mundane astrology (the branch of astrology concerned with predicting world events), but I rarely have a need to look them when looking at an individual person’s natal chart, or doing an election.
In particular, I don’t consider these planets to have any rulership over the signs, nor do I see them as being in exaltation, detriment, or fall anywhere in the zodiac. This is my own opinion, though, and it’s not one which is shared by every astrologer.
Still, it’s worth considering their accepted significations, if for no other reason than it will help you to better understand how some other astrologers (particularly modern astrologers) incorporate them into their practice.
Uranus is usually thought to signify large shifts in thinking. New scientific and social breakthroughs—usually experienced with a sudden or even “violent” energy—are the norm for this planet. The word “iconoclast,” meaning “one who attacks and seeks to overthrow traditional or popular ideas or institutions” is a very fitting word for Uranus.
Neptune is the planet of illusions, glamours, and dreams. “Abstract thinking” is sometimes attributed to this planet, along with the products of that thought: unconventional art forms, trances, and certain kinds of meditation. Planets making tight aspects to Neptune sometimes see their energy not exactly dissipated, but rather directed toward ends or situations which aren’t quite “real” in the sense that we usually mean that word.
In most of the modern astrological literature about Pluto, the planet is seen as something of a “cosmic wrecking ball.” Like Uranus, it’s broadly disruptive, but whereas Uranus disrupts things by replacing them with something new, Pluto simply ends them. It is frequently said to rule over destruction in general, as well as death. Less hostile takes on Pluto tend to connect it with ideas about transformation, rebirth, or regeneration.
As I wrote way back at the beginning, this post isn’t meant to cover absolutely everything there is to know about each of the planets. Instead, think of these descriptions as starting points, or as a simple “life line” to help you pull yourself along as you continue learning, or start to become overwhelmed by their myriad significations.
There’s a lot to learn about astrology, and keeping the planets first and foremost in your mind will help you greatly in your studies.