Steve Jobs’ Mercury: Strong or Weak?
Steve Jobs was a famous business person and technologist. Mercury is the planet that pertains most to business and technology. So we might wonder about the planetary strength of Mercury in Jobs’ natal chart. Take a look as we explore a more well-rounded traditional way to assessing planetary prominence and strength.
According to Astro-Databank, it is stated on his birth certificate that Steve Jobs was born on Feb. 24, 1955 at 7:15pm in San Francisco, California.
Weak? Mercury is Cadent and Retrograde
This chart poses a dilemma for traditional astrologers, in that Mercury is in a weak place, the 6th sign from the Ascendant. It is also retrograde.
This man was a thinker, a technologist. To claim that Mercury was weak or not a pervasive influence in this man’s life would be preposterous. Mercury is the primary planet of technology, commerce, and communications, all things central to his life story. It does not play a minor role.
Appearances can be Deceiving
Astrologers tend toward an over-reliance on what is immediately apparent when reading charts. That approach can cause problems. Signs are easy to spot so the sign a planet is in will often be given too much significance as to whether the planet indicates positive or negative things (see issues with dignity scoring). Retrogradation is easy to spot so it retrograde planets easily get blamed for all manner of things which they do not indicate. Cadency is often overused by traditional astrologers in the same manner, preferring its quick-and-dirty indication to a more comprehensive examination of the factors pertaining to strength.
This is a good time to introduce two major conditions that make a planet quite strong from Hellenistic astrology. These are easily missed and mistaken for mild weakening conditions.
While Mercury appears to be retrograde, and therefore some may regard it as somewhat weakened, the truth is that the Rx here is deceiving. Mercury is stationing direct, which is considered one of the major factors that strengthens a planet. Merely being retrograde is not a substantial impediment to a planet. Stationing retrograde, that is turning retrograde within about a week of birth, does weaken the planet’s influence, especially the more proximal it is to the time of birth.
However, stationing direct (within about a week of birth) is extremely fortifying to the planet. It indicates that significations are stronger, more pervasive, more widespread in the life. This is especially so if the planet stations direct very close to the birth time.
In the case of the chart of Steve Jobs, Mercury stations within 24 hours of birth, so this is a very strong direct station. The indication is that Mercury is strong, which is exactly the opposite of what appears to be the case by a cursory observation of retrogradation.
Making an Appearance: Phasis
Another fortifying condition in Hellenistic astrology is making an appearance, or being in phasis. A planet is in phasis when it is passing into or out of the Sun’s beams. Note that most ancient authors identified it as only being when passing out of the beams, though in my observation both hold but with more strength when passing out of them. The Sun’s beams are standardized to 15 degrees for this condition, and it should occur within about 7 days of birth – the closer in time, the more powerful the effect.
This again marks out a planet as more significant and of more pervasive influence. A planet going into the beams made its last appearance before disappearing for some time. One coming out from the beams makes a first appearance after being shrouded under the beams for a time. Unfortunately, when a planet is under the beams at birth, this condition is confused for the mildly weakening situation of being under the beams. Like with stationing direct, the mildly weakening situation really does not apply if the planet is in phasis.
Phasis and the Occupation
Phasis was particularly important when it came to the planet signifying the occupation in the chart. When Mercury, Venus, or Mars were in phasis they were more likely to indicate the nature of the occupation. For more information on the use of phasis (as well as other prominence considerations) see the lesson on planetary prominence.
Jobs was born with Mercury at 14 Aquarius and the Sun at 5 Pisces. They are about 21 degrees from each other, though Mercury has no apparent motion as it is stationing. Five days earlier, on Feb. 19, 1955, Mercury was at 16 Aquarius and the Sun at 0 Pisces, so they were 14 degree apart, with Mercury under the beams, passing out of them to make its first appearance.
Mercury is in phasis in his chart, making its first appearance about 4-5 days before his birth. Without specifically checking for phasis we would miss this important additional indication of planetary strength. Mercury is not only strong, but some of that strength pertains directly to the occupation.
Ruling the First Place
The planet ruling the 1st will have some special topical signification over the person themselves, their preferences, and their personality. Jobs has Virgo rising, so Mercury is the ruler of the 1st place, the place of the character and inclinations.
Mercury so far has three powerful conditions making it significant. It is stationing direct, in phasis, and rules the 1st (additionally, it is the 1st triplicity ruler of the sign it is in).
Advancing and Retreating
It was customary to use the place/house position (i.e. which ordinal sign a planet is located in as counted from the rising sign which is the 1st place) as a factor in strength consideration in Hellenistic astrology. While I also use the whole sign houses for topics and for assessing dark/light houses, I prefer the later Persian use of Advancing and Retreating (see Abu Ma’Shar and al-Qabisi) for planetary strength. Please refer to the lesson on advancing for a more thorough treatment of this topic.
To find whether a planet is advancing or retreating you take the distance between the horizon and the meridian on either side of the planet and divide by three. If a planet is less than one-third the distance from one to the next one (moving clockwise), but not very close to an angle (i.e. not within a few degrees, more might be allowed for luminaries), then it is retreating (weakened). A planet more than one-third of the way to that next “angle” is advancing (strengthened). One that is very close to an angle or approaching an angle within about 15 or 20 degrees is strongly advancing, i.e. very strengthened.
The Logic of Advancement
Advancing/Retreating is easy to conceptualize. The volume is being turned up on a planet as it is lining up with the horizon or meridian of a specific locale on Earth, and quickly turned down as it “retreats” from that location. It is truly a continuum, with a planet getting stronger (or louder, if you will) as it advances closer to the angle. I consider it to be the easiest strength consideration to spot in a chart, but also a very significant one.
In Steve’s chart, Mercury has already set, passing the Descendant at 22 Pisces and approaching the IC at 21 Sagittarius. The distance between the two is 91 degrees, but we’ll round off to 90, as precision is not important in this. One-third the distance is about 30 degrees. Mercury is more than 30 degrees past the Descendant at 22 Pisces, so it is not retreating. Mercury is at 14 Aquarius, which is 38 degrees from 22 Pisces, so it is considered Advancing, albeit just barely.
A careful look at Steve Jobs chart reveals that Mercury is the strongest, most pervasive, planet in the chart. While the Moon is strongly advancing, and Jupiter, Mars, and Venus are all three advancing more strongly than Mercury, Mercury is not only advancing but also stationing direct, in phasis, and the ruler of the 1st. There are only very minor weakening conditions.
Take a look at your own chart and the charts of others that you know, including celebrities. Experiment by weighting advancing/retreating, direct/retrograde stations, phasis, and rulership of the 1st. Personally, I rank them in the order given in the previous sentence, and consider all of them, particularly the first three, as giving powerful general indications regarding the pervasiveness of a planet’s influence.
Remember, a strong planet will express more of its nature in more places. Prominent planets spill out indications well beyond the houses they occupy and rule.