But since the variety of the impulses of the soul is great, it stands to reason that we would make such an inquiry in no simple or offhand manner, but by means of many complicated observations. For indeed the differences between the signs which contain Mercury and the moon, or the planets that dominate them, can contribute much to the character of the soul [,,,]
Ptolemy from the Tetrabiblos (Robbins trans., 1940, III.13, cam. p. 154)
This post is part of a series of lessons on the basics of horoscopic astrology as practiced on this site and by astrologers in about its first 1,000 years. As such, it is highly recommended that the reader review the previous posts in the series before proceeding. This post presupposes knowledge of the information in the other posts, as well as familiarity with matters one was instructed to study in the previous posts (such as zodiac and planetary glyphs). The first post introduced the history of astrology and the significance of the planets. The second post introduced free astrology charting software, as well as the horizon and meridian and the role that they play in planetary prominence. The third post introduced various other important planetary prominence considerations. The fourth post is most critical to this discussion as it introduced the signs of the zodiac, their rulers, some features of the signs, and the strong relationship that signs of the same quadruplicity have with each other (i.e. “stakes”). In this post we look at the most basic types of planetary relationships, which are those which pertain according to sign relationships, including the main forms of planetary rulership, as well as regards (also known as whole sign aspects).
Planets Influencing Other Planets
In the first three posts of the series we focused on planets and their significations, looking for ways in which their significations can become more or less prominent in characterizing life circumstances. In the last post, we considered that signs also further characterize matters. Signs do this through their own features as well as the nature of their rulers. Now we consider that planets are themselves in signs, and those signs are ruled by other planets, and may also be occupied by other planets. Therefore, in astrology the significations of any planet are further characterized by its relationship with other planets. In life, different areas of life are not neatly separate, but interact in interesting ways that differ from person to person, as well as over the course of life. The way that planets influence the significations of other planets (and “places”, the topic of the next post), helps to characterize the nuances and variety of experience. Different planets will play more prominent roles in influencing the significations of any planet in any particular chart, and while many planets may influence the significations, timing techniques help us determine when different planets more dominantly characterize what is being signified. Therefore, both the breadth and depth of particular influences on the signification of a planet are important. Considering all of the influences alerts us to the broad possibilities of signification that are possible, allowing us to see what can get highlighted when different points become activated by timing techniques. Considering the deepest or strongest influences helps us to understand the “status quo” or the more commonly recurring themes that crop up in relation to whatever is being symbolized.
The two primary ways that planets influence the symbolism of other planets is through rulership and aspect. We dealt with some of the important types of rulership in the last post on signs, and here will flesh out the other important types of rulership. The aspectual system of ancient astrology has some more advanced features, but the foundation of the aspectual system is whole sign aspects, called regards. These regards are crucially based on planetary rulership relationships and a sight metaphor. After discussing the forms of planetary rulership, we will delve into the basis of the regards and how the system works.
The main types of rulership (house or domicile, exaltation, triplicity, and bound), as well as planetary regards, are fundamental parts of astrological theory, used by all the major ancient astrologers. Even Ptolemy (2nd century CE), who made almost no use of places or houses for analyzing topics (houses/places will be addressed in the next post), and who sought physics-based ways to explain astrology, relied heavily upon rulership and regard. Ptolemy was known to analyze areas of life based on the planet or planets which were most relevant given their natural significations. For instance, as in the opening quote of this post, if we wanted to analyze someone’s psychology then we’d look at Mercury for the rationale mind, and the Moon for the irrational (what we might term the unconscious today). In order to look at planets that “dominate” the rational mind, we would look at 5 key relationships other planets have with Mercury:
1. House/domicile lord (i.e. sign ruler of the sign the Moon is in).
2. Exaltation lord (i.e. planet exalted in the sign it is in).
3. Main triplicity lord (i.e. ruler of the element of the sign it is in).
4. Bound/term lord (i.e. ruler of the part of the sign it is in; addressed next).
5. Planetary regards (i.e. planets in signs that make whole sign aspects to the Moon).
As Ptolemy puts it (note that in this passage a word was translated as “trine” in this 1940 translation but is more accurately “triplicity”, as in triplicity lord):
In general the mode of domination is considered as falling under these five forms: when it is trine, house, exaltation, term, and phase or aspect; that is, whenever the place in question is related in one or several or all of these ways to the star that is to be the ruler. (Ptolemy, Robbins trans., 1940, II.2, p. 109)
The house lord, exaltation lord, and triplicity lord were introduced in the last post.
Bounds or Terms
The bounds or terms are divisions of each sign into 5 segments, each ruled by a different one of the non-luminary planets. In other words, each sign is a house of one planet, and each house is broken into 5 rooms which are ruled by each planet excepting the Sun and Moon. These “bounds” are unequal divisions of the signs and the rationale behind the way the signs are divided into them has been lost to history. Some authors (including Ptolemy) proposed multiple systems of dividing the signs into bounds, but by far the most wide-spread and the oldest (see this article on pre-Hellenistic evidence for bounds), are the Egyptian bounds.
Project Hindsight provides a convenient rulership tables PDF which includes the Egyptian bounds and other types of rulers. If I’m online and need to look up bounds quickly, I typically prefer to check the Altair Astrology page for his article on bounds, as it has a very easy-to-read table of the Egyptian bounds. Additionally, the bounds are displayed in almost all charts on this site, as I use the Valens software which allows one to view the bounds within the chart.
Let’s look at an example chart (Whitney Houston, AA-rated) and determine the rulers of a few planets.
Whitney Houston’s Natal Chart
The Sun and Venus:
The Sun and Venus are in the same bound of the same sign, so they have all of the same rulers.
House: The Sun. The Sun and Venus are in Leo, which is the house of the Sun. A planet being in one of its own places of rulership is re-inforcing to the significations of the planet, so is a type of planetary prominence or strength (in this case for the Sun).
Exaltation: None. There is no exaltation lord for Leo.
Triplicity: Jupiter. She was born at night, and the triplicity lord of fire signs (of which Leo is one) at night is Jupiter.
Bound: Saturn. Both the Sun and Venus are in the bound ruled by Saturn.
The Moon and Jupiter:
These two planets also have the same rulers as they are found in the same bound of the same sign.
House: Mars. Mars is the house lord of Aries.
Exaltation: The Sun. The Sun is the exaltation lord of Aries.
Triplicity: Jupiter. Jupiter is the triplicity lord of fire signs by night.
Bound: Mercury. Mercury is the bound lord of both planets.
For now, this is just an exercise in identifying the rulers. I will discuss how they can be used later in the post.
Regards and How They Relate to the House Rulers
Planets that are in the same sign together are particularly influential upon each other and they are said to be “with” each other, or sometimes said to be “conjunct”. This is the most powerful type of regard or aspect, but it is often not specifically called a “regard” or “aspect” because the planets are literally in the same place, rather than “seeing” each other. In the ancient texts, it is more commonly referred to as two planets “with” each other than “conjunct” each other, as the term conjunction is often used for close aspects by degree (to be dealt with in a future post), whether they are between two planets in the same place (bodily conjunction/joining) or between two planets aspecting each other (aspectual conjunction/joining). I will continue this trend here, referring to planets in the same sign as “with” each other. For instance, the Sun and Venus are with each other in Whitney Houston’s chart, as both are in Leo. In this way their significations are very strongly tied together.
There are 4 additional aspects between planets, and these are based on a visual metaphor. Examine the diagram of planetary domiciles/houses below (image attribution: Meredith Garstin commons). Also, see the diagram on The Astrology Dictionary’s entry on “aspect”.
Opposition: Note that the domiciles of Saturn (Capricorn and Aquarius) are opposite those of the Sun and Moon (Leo and Cancer). Signs that are opposite each other are said to be in opposition and the relationship can be one of challenge, limitation, or obstruction, much akin to the nature of Saturn. The 7th sign from any sign is opposed to that sign.
Square: Note that each of the domiciles of Mars (Aries and Scorpio) are at a 90 degree angle from the domiciles of one of the lights (Sun or Moon). This relationship is called a “square” as the shape of a square is composed of right angles (or “quartile” as the signs are 90 degrees apart which is a quarter of the zodiac), and it is a relationship which be one of intensity, competition, and clash, much akin to the nature of Mars. The 4th and 10th (i.e. 4th backwards) sign from any sign is square to that sign.
Trine: Note that each of the domiciles of Jupiter (Sagittarius and Pisces) are at a 120 degree angle from the domiciles of one of the lights (Sun or Moon). This relationship is called a “trine” as there are always three signs which trine each other (i.e. those of the same triplicity) and together their trines form a triangle. The relationship is one of friendship, strong harmony, and opportunity, much akin to the nature of Jupiter. The 5th and 9th (i.e. 5th backwards) sign from any sign is trine to that sign.
Sextile: Note that each of the domiciles of Venus (Taurus and Libra) are at a 60 degree angle from the domiciles of one of the lights (Sun or Moon). This relationship is called a sextile as it is composed of two signs 60 degrees apart (60 degrees is a 1/6th of the zodiac). The relationship is one of complement, much akin to the nature of Venus. The 3rd and 11th (i.e. 3rd backwards) sign from any sign is sextile to that sign.
Read how Ptolemy describes the 4 aspects in Ch. 13 of Book I “Of the Aspects of the Signs” by clicking into this link, though note that Ptolemy partially sought a physical explanation for astrological phenomena, that the nature of the aspects are derived from musical harmony rather than planetary rulership relationships. He partially sought an explanation based on sign features also, but he erroneously stated that signs in opposition and square/quartile are less harmonious due to being of opposite sex, when in fact only the square involves signs of opposite sex.
Signs that are not in one of the above 4 relationships with each other are said to be “not in concord”, “disjunct”, “inconjunct”, or “alien”. As Serapio of Alexandra put it, “Not in concord are those that are in no way aspecting each other” (Holden trans., 2009, p. 61). Though some astrologers, including Ptolemy and Porphyry, considered planets not to be disjunct if they have some other type of sign sympathy (see my post on sign symmetry for some of these types of sympathy). In any case, planets may be said to regard (as in see) those signs that they aspect, while those that are not aspected are not as directly influential as they are akin to being out of sight. The signs that are not in aspect are the 2nd, 6th, 8th, and 12th from any sign. This concept of areas out of sight is important, as we’ll see, in the next post on places, that ancient astrologers associated those signs that the rising sign can’t see with topics in life that tend to be the most problematic for people (and often called them the “dark” or “bad” places/houses). This is because the rising sign symbolized the individual person and the signs that they can’t see are akin to more “alien” influences.
Overcoming and Domination
When looking at combinations of planetary symbolism through regards, we should also take into account which planet has the upper hand in characterizing the relationship. Sometimes astrologers do this by seeing which planet is more re-inforced in the sense that it is in a spot where it has some rulership of its own position (such as the Sun when the Sun and Venus are together in Leo, as Leo is the house of the Sun). However, in Hellenistic astrology this was often done by looking at which planet was to the right (or clockwise from the other planet) in the relationship. Planets normally progress forward through the zodiac, so the planet in an earlier position zodiacally (i.e. to the right or clockwise) is figuratively behind the other planet, putting the other planet in a more vulnerable position. I refer to the planet on the right as “overcoming” the planet on the left. This concept was used with greatest prevalence for the “square” aspect, in which the planet on the right was said to “overpower” (Dorotheus) or “predominate”/”dominate” (Porphyry).
And the [star] that is in the tenth sign is said to be predominant and to prevail over the one in the fourth [sign from it], e.g. the star that chances to be in Libra is dominant over the one in Capricorn, and the one in Capricorn is dominant over the one in Aries.
(Porphyry, Holden trans., 2009, Ch. 20, p. 17)
The concept is used less for the trine and sextile but is still important and is mentioned by some astrologers as “overcoming” or “prevailing”. See the Porphyry quote below regard prevailing as applying to the trine, square, and sextile, whereas in the quote above he defines predominating as a special type of prevailing involving the square. It may be that the distinction is most relevant for the square because of the Mars-like nature of the aspect, as it is helpful to know what is dominant when planets are in a relationship of conflict.
Every star prevails when it is posited in a dexter trine or square or sextile to one on its left, for that one goes toward it. For example, one that is in Capricorn prevails over one in trine aspect in Taurus […] They say that prevailing is more powerful when [the planets] are in trine or square. For the prevailing star is thus stronger […].
(Porphyry, Holden trans., 2009, Ch. 21, p. 17)
So far, we see that planets on the right side are more influential in the aspect relationship, and that this is most important for the square, where the planet “dominates”, and then next most important for the trine, and even less important for the sextile. The concept is not used at all for the opposition. At least for one Hellenistic astrologer, Serapio of Alexander, the concept was important for planets with each other in the same sign as well (see quote below). Therefore, I will generally refer to the planet on the right as “overcoming” whether they are “with”, square, trine, or sextile, and may occasionally use the term “dominates” for the one on the right in a square aspect to signify the increased importance.
whenever two stars are present in the same sign, and the one having fewer degrees prevails over the one having more degrees, e.g., the star of Mercury in Aries around the 10th degree, that of Saturn in the same sign around the 25th degree–it is evident that the [star] of Mercury prevails over that of Saturn by degrees.
(Serapio, Holden trans., 2009, p. 63)
Putting Things Together
Let’s combine a number of things covered in this post and the last in analyzing the “irrational mind” through the Moon in the chart of Jeffrey Dahmer (AA-rated), using some of the pointer given to us by Ptolemy pertaining to planets that bear the greatest significance in terms of the Moon’s symbolism, due to their influence by rulership and regard.
The Moon is at 19 degrees Aries, which is the bound of Mercury, the house of Mars, the exaltation of the Sun, and the triplicity of the Sun. From looking at aspects we find that Mars is the most influential of all these rulers as Mars is “with” the Moon in the same sign, and is also of an earlier degree (“overcoming”) and reinforced by being in its own house. Jupiter and Saturn regard the Moon by square from the right side, so they “dominate” the Moon. The Sun and Mercury regard the Moon by sextile, but they are in the weaker position (the Moon overcomes them). Of the two planets that dominate the Moon, neither has any form of rulership, but Saturn dominates most closely, being at 17 Capricorn while the Moon is at 19 Aries, and Saturn is in its own house, so Saturn is more influential of the two (between Jupiter and Saturn). In fact, Saturn is the last planet the Moon aspected, so it is the planet that the Moon separates from, which is a very significant planet in Hellenistic astrology (the separation and application of the Moon are important planets for assessing psychology in Hellenistic astrology and are also noted by Ptolemy in that section as something to investigate).
Therefore, by close examination of the Moon we find that Mars as the most direct and strong influence over its symbolism (irrational mind subject to violence, turmoil, or anxiety) as it both has rulership and is tied together with it in a strong way, then Saturn and the Sun, with Saturn dominating the Moon closely and representing its separation (think of the symbolism of Saturn pertaining to death, as well as darkness). The Sun has multiple forms of rulership as well as a weak sextile aspect. The Sun and its symbolism of fame, accomplishment, exposure, father, truth, recognition, authorities, and so forth may also then relate strongly to the Moon’s symbolism in multiple ways, though the Moon may be said to prevail over the Sun.
Note that in the modern period, those rediscovering the techniques of Ptolemy often apply the predomination technique using rulership and regard in a mechanical fashion that fails to take into account the varying influence of different types of regards and the way that multiple planets can be relevant in different ways. Typically, a point is given to each planet for each type of rulership and regard that it has over the planet (or point) being considered. For example, if we were looking at just the Moon, as we have, then we’d give the Sun 3 points (exaltation, triplicity, regard by sextile), Mars 2 points (house, with in the same sign), and Saturn, Jupiter, and Mercury one point (regard). Ptolemy advised to look at the planet or planets that predominate over Mercury and the Moon, so we combine the points for both to get one planet (or more in the case of a tie) that we assess as being the predominator over the mind or soul in general (i.e. a significator for the person’s soul). This reflects the later medieval approach, as the Ptolemaic predomination technique came to be one of finding a predominator (almuten, al-mubtazz, “winner”) according to what type of rulership or combination of rulerships a planet had over a position, with different types of rulership given different amounts of points. Both approaches fail to account for the fact that a planet “with” another planet or closely dominating another planet may have a much strong influence over a planet than one that it is just its triplicity and exaltation ruler. I’ve provided some critiques of this approach in the past.
Understanding both the breadth and depth of planetary influence over the symbolism of the Moon, will provide much more important information about the irrational mind of someone than finding a single planet that you can say represents the person’s soul due to it having the most points over Mercury and the Moon in some mechanical operation of adding rulership and regards, giving them all equal standing. For instance, Mars has the strongest and most constant influence on the Moon in Dahmer’s chart, serving to strongly characterize the nature of what the Moon signifies due to their being so strongly tied together, with modifications from the features of Aries (fire sign; cardinal). Saturn represents a conflicting and challenging influence on the irrational mind, with Saturn able to “dominate” it with its significations, again emphasizing the cardinal feature as Saturn is in a cardinal sign (see the last post on sign features). The Sun’s symbolism then relates to the irrational mind in a way that is less directly impacting the nature of the irrational mind itself, but important nonetheless.
In this post we we looked at ways in which planetary influences combine to yield more complicated symbolism. The interpretation of planetary and sign combinations is very difficult and is one reason why astrological prediction of fine particulars is probably impossible. Ancient astrologers would devote large portions of texts to giving some examples of possible indications from each combination of planets in the same sign, combinations of planets in each type of aspect, rulership scenarios, and so forth, often with extreme examples, so that one would stay open-minded to the range of possibilities. I advise the reader to study some of these (some texts are available free, including translations of Ptolemy, Valens, and Maternus; see the first post of the series for some sources of these), and to look at one’s own chart and think about what sorts of possibilities could be symbolized as well as which possibilities appear more dominant.
In the next post, we tie some of these significations to certain specific areas of life, as we explore the main strategy of assigning life topics to signs, called the “places” (they are called “houses” in modern astrology).
The fact that Ptolemy used the Moon to symbolize the irrational mind was brought up strategically in this post. Modern astrologers often assume that ancient astrology had nothing to say about one’s psychology and that instead it was just about trying to predict things that would happen to a person. Ptolemy’s treatment of the Moon and Mercury as relating to rational and irrational aspects of the mind or soul, written in the 2nd century CE, shows that not only did ancient astrologers concern themselves with psychology (despite it not being called psychology at that time) but probably had a more sophisticated tool set at their disposal for symbolizing the nature of influences and disturbances upon the mind than found in modern psychological astrology.
Porphyry, & Serapio. (2009). Porphyry the Philosopher. (J. H. Holden, Trans.). Tempe, AZ: American Federation of Astrologers.
Ptolemy, C. (1940). Ptolemy: Tetrabiblos. (F. E. Robbins, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Loeb Classical Library. Retrieved from http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Ptolemy/Tetrabiblos/home.html
Source for Featured Image of Eye: By derivative work: Laitr Keiows (talk) Iris_-_left_eye_of_a_girl.jpg: Laitr Keiows (Iris_-_left_eye_of_a_girl.jpg) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Source for Planetary Domiciles Image: “Fig.3 Planetary Domiciles” by Meredith Garstin commons – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fig.3_Planetary_Domiciles.jpg#/media/File:Fig.3_Planetary_Domiciles.jpg