Astrology 101, Pt 4: Planets and Dignities

Part 3, Part 5

Welcome back to my intro to astrology series! Last time I went over the zodiac signs and their attributes. Today I will be diving into the planets and their various attributes. This series is here for people who are clueless about astrology and would like to develop a working knowledge of it. So please, do not use my series to administer astrological consultations to other people, as this will not prepare you to be able to ethically do that. This is to empower you to understand your own chart and understand what astrologers are talking about when you consult them.

The Planets

In sanskrit the planets are referred to as grahas, which means “to grasp,” in the sense that these celestial objects are regarded as representations of universal truths that grab hold of us. As human beings, we are grabbed by the influence of the planets – and this is reflected in the rich tradition of stargazing and mythmaking that has been present throughout the history of humanity as we covered in the history of astrology. Humans have always been gripped by the heavens.

In astrology when we talk about planets, we include the Sun, Moon, and the two lunar nodes even though they are not technically planets. The Sun and the Moon are known as luminaries because they give off light. The lunar nodes are mathematical points in the sky where the paths of the Sun and the Moon meet – meaning eclipses happen when the Sun and Moon come in conjunction with these points. They are not true planets, but for the purpose of astrology it’s convenient to refer to them all as planets.

In traditional astrology we use the 9 planet scheme (the 7 planets and the two lunar nodes) primarily for natal readings. The 7 planets are what’s visible in the sky to the naked eye: the Sun, the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. We see the Sun during the daytime (and sometimes the Moon!), and during the nighttime we can observe the Moon and the other planets in the sky. They appear as bright shining stars – but unlike the stars, which remain stationed relative to each other, the planets move across constellations. Ancient astrologers used to study the night sky to track the movements of the planets, using the data they gathered to calculate their trajectories and predict their movements.

The outer planets Neptune, Uranus, and Pluto can be used but they are often interpreted more as generational planets because they are so slow-moving. It takes between 7 and 20 years for these planets to travel across a single zodiac sign – so their placement in the natal chart is not particularly distinguishing to the individual as they will share the placement with everyone else who was born in the last two or so generations as them. Exceptions are made when an outer planet is closely associated with one of the other 9 planets, but for now it is not necessary to go into detail about them. Below is a table of the 9 planets and their attributes.

SunThe Sun is representative of our personal power and self-expression. Some archetypal associations with the Sun include patriarchs such as father and king. The Sun is a hot planet and burns quite bright – getting too close can burn others, which is why the Sun is so associated with the Self. Leo, which is ruled by the Sun, is commonly associated with children. If you think of a baby, they are totally unashamed to be themselves and this is the essence of the Sun. Babies and toddlers can also be incredibly self-centered, though. Emphasis on the Self naturally leaves less room for others, but shining our light can also act as a beacon of inspiration to others.
MoonThe Moon is our psyche – which includes our sensory perceptions and emotions. This planet represents the mother and our relationship to family in the natal chart. The Moon is highly sentimental because of the association with mother – when we are born, we are one with our mothers and if our mother is a good mother, she nurtures and protects us. When we feel safe and secure, we can delight in our sensory experiences and emotions without fear of danger. We are free to be vulnerable, therefore the moon represents our vulnerable nature as well.
MercuryMercury is the discriminating intellect – the part of our mind that learns and measures the value of things. Mercury is associated with merchants, commerce, communication, education, and also an element of trickery and fickleness. Mercury is very quick, second in speed only to the Moon, representing the speed at which one’s analytical mind operates. Mercury’s fickleness means that interests or ideas may be fleeting, but also it can mean flexibility and adaptability to changing environments – a great trait for commercial development and investing.
VenusVenus represents our relationships and how we express affection and appreciation to others. Venus is associated with aesthetic pleasures, romance, and love especially. Reciprocity is a big aspect of Venus – the act of receiving and giving in equal measures in one-to-one relationships. This idea of reciprocity is central to the creative process and divine inspiration – therefore, Venus is also heavily associated with artists of all kinds.
MarsMars is the warrior planet – driven, passionate, assertive, and courageous, he goes for what he wants and is highly focused on goals. Mars is often associated with athleticism, physical strength, competition, and conquest. As such, Mars is also associated with military and warfare. Mars is incredibly tactical and executes action with great precision.
JupiterJupiter represents higher consciousness and spiritual knowledge. The Sage is Jupiter’s archetype. Where Mercury is concerned with counting, measuring, and naming, Jupiter is concerned with philosophy, religion, and deep spiritual contemplation. Jupiter seeks to explore ideas and abstract thought. Through spiritual seeking, one finds transcendence and becomes uplifted, therefore Jupiter is associated with beneficence, expansiveness, and idealism. Jupiter is also associated with wealth and abundance.
SaturnSaturn is the planet of karmic debt and structure. Where Jupiter is expansive and uplifting, Saturn restricts and brings things back down to earth. Saturn represents longevity, obstacles, discipline, responsibility, and commitments. Saturn’s influence can feel like a dense and heavy burden in our lives, but the lessons we learn through Saturn’s hardships are what turn coal into diamonds. In truth, the world needs Saturn’s influence – we need limits in our lives, as without them we would not experience containment and would easily dissipate into nothingness. Thus, Saturn is also strongly correlated to physical matter as well.
North Node (Rahu)The North Node (referred to as Rahu in Vedic Astrology) is representative of the mythic dragon’s/serpent’s head. This is the first planet on our list that is not a true celestial object – it is merely a mathematical approximation in the sky, used to predict eclipses. When the Sun or Moon crosses the lunar nodes in the sky, it is said that they are being swallowed by the dragon’s head. The Sun and Moon become digested and transformed by their encounters with the nodes. The North Node generally shows us where we desire to grow and explore in our life, and in the case of Rahu, creates obsessions and addictions, as well as powerful material manifestations. The dragon’s head is always seeking to reunite with its body, the tail or Ketu, and so it is important to consider them as a pair.
South Node (Ketu)The South Node (referred to as Ketu in Vedic Astrology) is representative of the mythic dragon’s/serpent’s tail. The lunar nodes are always exactly opposite each other in a natal chart, and for the most part are always in retrograde motion. This comes back to the myth of the dragon who seeks to swallow the Sun and the Moon, both which can never travel in retrograde motion; they are endlessly being chased by the nodes. Where the North Node/Rahu draws us into the material realm, the South Node/Ketu creates withdrawal and detachment. The South Node/Ketu is also associated with extrasensory perception, hidden knowledge, and past lives.

Each planet is commonly associated with a deity or mythic character depending on the region where the astrological practice originates. These associations carry archetypal experiences that inform the significations of the planets. In Hindu mythology, the planets themselves are deities and are also associated with more central deities such as Shiva, Vishnu, Lakshmi, Parvati, and so on. In Greek mythology, the planets are heavily associated with the Olympian pantheon. It is worthwhile to explore the mythological associations with the planets to get a clearer understanding of the archetypal themes they represent in the natal chart.

Additionally, the traits that I have listed in the above table are influenced and sometimes intensified or impaired based on the zodiac sign that a given planet occupies. We will be going over this in the following section.

Dignities & Compatibility

The planets are good at being themselves, and the zodiac signs essentially represent the environment in which a planet is trying to express itself. Some environments are more compatible with the traits expressed by the planets than others. When a planet is placed in a compatible or supportive environment, its traits are able to bear fruitful results to the native. Likewise, when a planet is placed in an environment that is incompatible or unsupportive, we can see the planet struggle to achieve its purpose. We know what zodiac signs are harmonious for a planet by assessing that planet’s dignities and its compatibility with other planets that rule the zodiac signs.

As a general rule of thumb, planets that own fire and water signs get along with other planets that own fire and water signs. Likewise, planets that own earth and air signs get along with other planets that own earth and air signs. It makes sense, because the elemental qualities are in part related to the kinds of traits and themes that are represented by a planet. The fire and water signs are owned by the Sun, the Moon, Mars, and Jupiter, while the earth and air signs are owned by Mercury, Venus, and Saturn. The Moon is a bit of an exception to this rule, and is friendly towards all other planets. Again, this is a rule of thumb, so there will be nuance that can be discerned by more experienced astrologers.

Dignities, on the other hand, refers to a given planet’s preferred signs to be in. First and foremost, planets like to be in signs that they rule, known as domicile. We learned what signs the planets rule in the last article. Additionally, each planet also has a sign that they especially like, and when a planet is in that sign it is considered exalted. A planet in its sign of exaltation is able to embody the highest expression of its natural gifts. The opposite of exaltation is debilitation and the opposite of domicile is fall or detriment. As a rule, the sign of a planet’s debilitation or detriment is opposite its sign of exaltation or domicile, respectively. Why is that the case? It is because the sign that is opposite a given zodiac sign exhibits qualities which are in a polarizing relationship to the given sign. That is why we considered the signs as pairs in the last article – they form opposites that resist each other, but also benefit from learning from each other. When a planet finds itself occupying a sign which is opposite its domicile or exaltation, that planet is out of its element, where its natural traits are challenged or inadequate for the environment. A person who has only ever known warfare and violence, for example, is going to have under-developed empathy and compassion for others. Take this person out of a warzone and place them into a children’s nursery and they are going to find that all the skills and traits they’ve learned through war are wholly inadequate for tending to babies and children. Below is a table of the planets and their dignities:

MercuryGemini, VirgoSagittarius, PiscesVirgoPisces
VenusTaurus, LibraScorpio, AriesPiscesVirgo
MarsAries, ScorpioLibra, TaurusCapricornCancer
JupiterSagittarius, PiscesGemini, VirgoCancerCapricorn
SaturnCapricorn, AquariusCancer, LeoLibraAries

You’ll see that the lunar nodes are missing from this list – that is because they don’t rule zodiac signs. There are some schools of thought that do assign rulership of some signs to the nodes, but I do not think that is helpful for developing a working knowledge of astrology and can create some confusion. In my opinion it is best to start out with the very bare basics before adding in more nuanced takes on astrological theory.

Know that there is no cause for panic if you have any planets in their fall or debilitation. It simply brings challenges to the areas of life those planets represent; the native generally has to work harder to practice and feel confident wielding the under-developed attributes of a fallen or debilitated planet, which has its own benefits. Even though it can take a long time to learn such lessons, often the people who have had to struggle the hardest to learn something end up mastering it in ways that others with natural acuity do not or take for granted. It takes more conscious effort to become good at something that doesn’t come naturally to us, so please do not despair. Likewise, there are some drawbacks that can be experienced with planets that are in exaltation or domicile – it all depends on context.

If you’ve been following along this far, then I would like you to challenge yourself with the following question: Why is a given planet exalted in the sign of its exaltation, and not some other sign? Choose your favorite planet and use the knowledge you’ve learned from the previous articles so far, then comment below with your answer. Next time we will be learning about the housing system and house lords. Take care.

I am currently studying to become a professional astrologer and if you are interested in receiving a brief consultation please check out my rates and services page. I am grateful for opportunities to practice my skills and increase my experience.

3 thoughts on “Astrology 101, Pt 4: Planets and Dignities”

  1. Pingback: Astrology 101, Pt 4: Chart Structure | Welcome to the Moon Lodge

  2. Pingback: Astrology 101, Pt 3: The Signs and their Attributes | Welcome to the Moon Lodge

  3. Pingback: Astrology 101, Pt 6: Houses and Classifications | Welcome to the Moon Lodge

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