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Rulerships Toppled!

Well before Delacroix painted this, Uranus was discovered and rulerships (both political and astrological) were doomed.

By John Townley

One of the more elaborate – and intractable – rule sets in astrology is that of rulerships. In order to determine the strength/importance of a planet, you must judge where it fits in a rigid hierarchy made up when there were only seven planets being considered. I take it with a serious grain of salt, and so should you. Here’s why:

The traditional way of treating rulerships goes back to a concept of the universe in which our planetary system was not viewed as one of many, but the only one, the whole universe itself. In that system, the seven visible planets were the lords of all activity and like humans had surrounding fiefdoms over which they ruled and had possession. Looked at that way, the chart becomes like a set of nation-states through which the planets travel, sometimes in their own kingdoms, sometimes crossing borders into kingdoms ruled by either allies or enemies, where they have less authority. And by totaling up who has the most and who has the least, and where it finally leads (as in a clever but unhelpful, tail-chasing “dispositor tree”) it could be determined who the most powerful magnate was, and who the weakest, who “ruled the chart” and who owed what to whom in the end and who didn’t. It is really astoundingly anthropomorphic, and tagged to a very specific historical political system.

Original 7-planet rulership tree was totally symmetrical, with inner  inconsistencies ignored in favor of overall structure.

In a population of seven planets and twelve signs, it was very neat and symmetrical, with Moon and Sun holding sway over neighbors Cancer and Leo, and then each planet in order of speed having two kingdoms on either side, progressing outward from the middle: speedy Mercury over Gemini and Virgo, sauntering Venus over Taurus and Libra, determined Mars over Aries and Scorpio, leisurely Jupiter over Pisces and Sagittarius, and deliberate Saturn tying up the opposite ends with tangent Aquarius and Capricorn. Hierarchical and symmetrical, this was the celestial tree of life – the whole universe in its perfectly-formed completeness. (see illustration above)

But in modern times, when politics below have proven a lot more fluid and there are three or more extra heavenly bodies above to take into consideration, our understanding of rulerships has evolved. Now it is really more about general (and frequently overlapping) similarities than any fixed and circumspect set of influences. It’s rather like taking a closer look at modern nation-states and finding that they aren’t totally homogeneous, but made up of separate and often border-crossing ethnic minorities that may be quite different, despite being officially part of the same set. As our view gets more inclusively democratic, it also gets less definitive from moment to moment.


As new planets arose, the plan began to lose its balance, and relevance, as did similar, rigid feudal social structure tree.

Thus, Mercury and its qualities of mental construction, attention to specifics, and changeability seems to share qualities with Gemini (especially) and Virgo (perhaps less so). Mars clearly shares energy and aggressiveness with Aries, but not so much with more withdrawn and isolated (though powerful) Scorpio, while Pluto seems actually a bit more similar to that dark sign. Venus shares a love of opulence with Taurus (but not its propensity for slowness) and an inclination to beauty and balance with Libra, though not Libra’s aggressive and applecart-upsetting inclinations. Jupiter certainly has the broad shoulders and inclusiveness of Sagittarius (though maybe not so rough-hewn), but doesn’t seem to have much in common with Pisces at all, while Neptune seems made to the task. Saturn and Capricorn seem a perfect match, but Aquarius though sometimes cold is far from conservative and stodgy, so Uranus would seem to share some of its more unusual and inventive side. Even Sun and Moon aren’t entirely perfectly matched to their signs, as the Sun is constant and reliable, whereas Leo doesn’t always hold up to that standard, and the Moon is far too retreating and fickle for a season-dominating cardinal sign, though it is similar in other ways, such as sensitivity and empathy.

Comfort is key

Still, it’s important to consider whether a planet is comfortable in a sign, as when it’s not, it is for all practical purposes partly debilitated. Saturn flounders in Pisces and Cancer, while being utterly overbearing in Aries, for instance. Neptune loses its essential staying power in Aries, while Uranus drowns in Pisces (where Mercury becomes befuddled and Mars loses focus), Jupiter in Capricorn is shorn of much of its breadth, and so on. But because all these discomfitures are partial, there’s no hard and fast rule, though the traditional set of rulerships, exaltations, and falls sometimes does as well as any. It really depends on what side of the planet you are looking at and whether that, specifically, is helped or hurt by the sign it’s in. Even neat subsets like mutual reception don’t have consistent, or perhaps any, meaning, depending on where they fall. Mercury in Taurus and Venus in Gemini are in mutual reception, but so is Mercury in Libra and Venus in Virgo. In the first, Venus fares better, in the second, Mercury does. The same sort of irregularity applies for all the rest, and more so when you throw in the outer planets. Basically, it means each is showing some uncomfortable and uncharacteristic qualities of the other, and is having to fight them.

Rulerships these days are more like EU states, partly homogenous, partly overlapping, depending on your view...

So in the end, it’s a new ball game as far as rulership goes, and it might be better to use a variable weighting point system (as Lilly did), but one built to your own specifications and including whatever your favorite outer (and newer-discovered) planets/asteroids might be – and then adapt that to the particular situation you are looking at. Planets tied by easy, reinforcing aspects will make the most out of being in a less-than-hospitable sign, whereas a hard aspect will simply reinforce the discomfort of its position. Benefic or malefic transits and progressions will have a similar, but more temporary, effect. And all of that is only as relevant as the planet itself is to the particular issue you are examining. 

When traditional astrologers (meaning Classical and Renaissance) codified rulerships, they did it as a combination of observed similarities shoehorned into a formal structuring of the universe as they thought they knew it. What we think we know about cosmology has greatly changed, but the effects of the planets have not…we understood it imperfectly then, possibly equally-so now – so although the context has changed, fortunately our ability to sense the palpable reality has not, and that is what we should be listening to.

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