5. Planets and Other Essential Bodies

astrology guide
astrology guide

“THE ASTROLOGICAL CHART is created using many elements. This chapter looks at the planets and other essential bodies, which can be described as the “what” in the chart, with the signs being “how” the planets work in you, and the houses being the “where,” or areas of life.”

The “what” in your chart represents such things as your emotions, your drive, your love nature, your mind, or to word it differently, integral parts of the self. The different signs show how those parts of the self are represented in a person and whether that is, for example, in a more enthusiastic manner or a more reserved manner. The house, or the “where,” indicates the areas of life in which the planet and sign operate most prevalently in individuals.

Historically, astrology used the two luminaries, Sun and Moon, and the five visible planets: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Modern astrology, however, also uses more recently discovered cosmic bodies. Some of these are included here, and others will be discussed later in the book.

In part 2  you will learn how to structure and interpret a birth chart. These sections will be used as a reference as you integrate all of the parts of the chart to create a holistic picture of the self.


The Sun is the central organizing principle of both the solar system and the self. It’s the core identity and the Sun in your chart energizes you. The Sun is day energy, as the Sun clearly shines in the day and is an inhalation of breath that energizes our bodies. Like the Sun in the solar system, everything else revolves around this shining core. The Sun rules the sign of Leo and the heart, and this indicates that the Sun is the heart of you. The Sun is seen as a masculine or yang energy in modern western culture, but in many other traditions the Sun has been seen as feminine because of its life-giving qualities.

The Sun functions as your CEO or conductor, and when you are tuned into the energy of your personal sun sign then you are operating at your most aligned. The Sun also represents self-expression, sense of purpose, creativity, and the ego in the healthiest of senses.

The highest expression of Sun energy is the benevolent leader who lights up the lives of others and is energized by how they shine light on others. In its lesser expression, the Sun can be boastful and egotistical. Like the actual Sun in the solar system, however, the energy of the sun within us can be dulled or blocked by other placements, and a sun sign that is blocked makes it more difficult to express that energy.


The Moon represents your emotional needs and your relationship to feelings. It is night energy and the energy of an exhalation as we relax at the end of the day. The sign of Cancer and the fourth house are both ruled by the Moon. The Moon also represents your relationship to family, home, and your ancestors.

The Moon is receptive and reflective, giving out no light of its own. Because of that, western cultures have designated the Moon as yin or feminine energy because of the portrayal of the feminine as passive. There are other traditions, however, that believe the Sun is the ovum and the Moon the sperm. The Moon is visibly night energy, where we exhale, rest, and recover our energy.

The Moon is our basis of security and often represents the mother, or the person who “mothered” you in your early life. The Moon rules body rhythms, including menstrual cycles and the cycles of sleep, and it is a commonly held belief that we sleep less and have more energy when the Moon is full, and we are more inwardly focused and need alone time in the dark of the Moon. As our Moon placement says a lot about our response to the outer world, the actual phases of the Moon affect us also. There’s an ebb and flow to all lunar energy.


Mercury is both day and night energy and an inhale and exhale, since Mercury rules the signs of Gemini, the twins, and Virgo, service and usefulness. Mercury is the most nonbinary of the planetary bodies, and the fact that the planet rules both the yang (day) air sign of Gemini and the yin (earth) night sign of Virgo indicates this. Mercury is the first of the personal planets after the luminaries, the Sun and Moon.

Mercury represents the mind, communication, the messenger, detail, technical ability, perception, and learning. Mercury is also coordination, how our mind tells our neural pathways to coordinate.

Depending on the placement of Mercury and how we are embodying our Mercury, it can be curious, witty, sociable, and versatile or nervy, overconcerned with detail, and even highly strung. Mercury is also associated with the trickster archetype—the fact that the planet appears to go retrograde three to four times each year is indicative of its trickster nature, because Mercury retrograde is renowned for technical snafus and miscommunications. The trickster archetype is one that turns conventional rules and behavior on their heads.

Mercury is associated with Hermes, the messenger of the gods. It is the closest planet to the Sun, our core, and transmits information from the core to Earth. Mercury travels closely with the Sun from our perspective and is always in the same sign as the Sun or one of the two adjacent signs.


Venus is generally known as the planet of love and, of course, modern astrology has defined that as feminine, despite the fact that Venus rules both Libra, a day air sign, and Taurus, a night earth sign. Like Mercury, Venus is both day and night and an exhale and inhale. Modern astrology’s definitions reflect gender bias and why some have never identified with such concepts as “men are from Mars and women are from Venus.”

Venus is the second of the personal planets, the second planet from the Sun and the closest to the Earth. Venus, like Mercury, travels closely with the Sun from our perspective and is always either in the same sign as or in one of the adjacent signs to the Sun.

Venus rules the senses and, therefore, symbolizes the relationship to all that can be seen, touched, heard, smelled, and tasted, which includes people, nature, money, food, and things. Venus also symbolizes values, the arts, beauty, sensuality, harmony, and mediation—as well as indecisiveness, inertia, and overindulgence.

Venus has a cycle that reflects a more complex and binary energy: When it rises above the Sun, Venus is the “morning star,” known as Phosphorus or Lucifer, the light bearer, an outgoing yang (day) Venus. When it moves to set after the Sun, Venus is the evening star, or Hesperus, which is a much more receptive yin (night) placement. It’s good practice to look at this, as well as sign and house placement and aspects to other planets, to give you a full picture of an individual’s Venus.


Mars is the last of the personal planets and the only personal planet to be farther from the Sun than the Earth. As Mars leads us to the outer reaches of the solar system and away from the Sun, the energy of the planet itself is more outgoing. Mars rules Aries, the pioneer of the zodiac. Interestingly, Mars also rules Scorpio in traditional astrology. Traditional astrology generally refers to practices that use only the planets and essential bodies that were visible to the naked eye, so that they assigned rulership of signs to planetary bodies from the moon through Saturn. As traditional ruler of Scorpio, the red planet displays a night, exhale designation. In modern astrology, Mars is yang (day) energy.

Mars symbolizes action, drive, courage, leadership, assertion, aggression, and anger. Mars is often said to symbolize fighting and competition, but it must be pointed out that Venus-ruled Libra rules war itself, as well as peace. Again, astrology is more complex than some might think.

Mars is associated with physicality and competition in general. Knives and guns are also images that connect to Mars. Mars is passion, impatience, and life force, and as such is an inhalation of breath. Without Mars, we would get little done in life. Mars helps us fulfill our desires. Mars is our animalistic nature and we all have that to a greater or lesser degree, dependent on the placement in the individual horoscope. In its night incarnation as the traditional ruler of Scorpio, Mars is penetrative and passionate.


Jupiter is often called the first of the social planets, as we move farther away from the Sun, and represents a transition from the personal planets to the outer, more recently discovered, transpersonal or collective planets. Jupiter is a day/inhale planet as ruler of fire sign Sagittarius. As traditional ruler of Pisces, Jupiter is night or exhale. This diffuse energy must be taken into account as you look at the planet in an individual’s chart.

Jupiter rules Sagittarius, the sign of truth seeking and belief, and the ninth house. Jupiter is the guru or teacher of the zodiac and symbolizes the god energy. In the Roman pantheon there was originally a council of six gods and six goddesses called Dei Consentes, but Jupiter became the primary god later in Roman culture.

The planet Jupiter, as god of the sky, symbolizes freedom, optimism, generosity, luck, expansion, breadth, and truth. Jupiter is the prophet, the sage, the world traveler and explorer. Jupiter also symbolizes grandiosity, inflation, the braggart, and the soap box.

Jupiter is often seen as the lucky planet, and this can be true, but Jupiter also represents overexpansion and overdoing of all kinds.


Saturn is the second of the social planets and the last of the original planets visible to the eye that were used in traditional astrology. Saturn rules the yin earth sign Capricorn, and yet characteristics that are traditionally seen as masculine are attributed to the planet. We must remember that all genders have these qualities within them. Saturn is a night, colder energy and is an exhalation of breath as ruler of Capricorn. However, as traditional ruler of Uranus, Saturn also exhibits day or inhale energy. Please take into account the day or night energy of the sign placement of Saturn when you interpret your chart. Saturn is also associated with the 10th house.

Saturn symbolizes external authority, as is fitting for what was thought of as the outer limit of our solar system. Other symbols for Saturn are the parent or father—or the energy of the parent who exhibited more yang energy. Saturn symbolizes boundaries, rules and limitations, fear, denial, and control. Saturn also symbolizes maturity, tradition, sensory reality, and elderhood.

Saturn has been much maligned for these qualities at times, but boundaries and a sensible awareness of limitations are important to be able to build the structures of your life. It’s where we close the door, literally or figuratively, to recoup after the action-oriented energy of the day. Saturn can be the backbone and anchor of your life if you choose to work with the placement in your chart.


Uranus is the first of the more recently discovered transpersonal planets, those that are not visible to the naked eye. Uranus was discovered by William Herschel in 1781 and it was quite a shock to discover a planet beyond the boundary of the previously known solar system. Uranus rules Aquarius and the 11th house. The discovery of Uranus opened up the discovery of collective, larger forces, which led to opening the minds of astrologers. Concepts such as the soul and major planetary cycles had previously been limited by what was thought to be a closed system with Saturn at the outer limit. This indicates the awakening energy and shattered boundaries that Uranus symbolizes. Uranus also has a spin axis that is 98° to the perpendicular, which sets it apart from other cosmic bodies.

Uranus represents individuality, uniqueness, unconventionality, and independence. Uranus is the revolutionary and the rebel. As such, this is a day energy of action and activity and an inhale. Where Uranus sits in a horoscope shows where you will be called to go your own way and break free from the status quo. Uranus is the inventive genius who is open to information and ideas that have not been thought of before, or where connections have not been made before.


Neptune, the second of the transpersonal planets, was discovered in 1846. Like the nebulous nature of Neptune itself, it was discovered by mathematical prediction—based on hypotheses that a planetary body was disturbing the orbit of Uranus—rather than simply through empirical observation. We now know that Galileo actually observed Neptune in the 17th century, possibly mistaking it for a star. These confusing discovery experiences are emblematic of Neptune’s symbolism.

Neptune rules Pisces and the 12th house and symbolizes illusion, confusion, consciousness itself, psychic sensitivity, and trance-like creative energy. All realms of mysticism and mystery are symbolized by Neptune, as are addiction and victimization complexes. Neptune is boundaryless and sacrificial, but also healing and gentle. Neptune energy dissolves and makes all that it touches more nebulous. As a receptive and feeling planet, Neptune is night energy or an exhale.


Pluto is the last of the transpersonal planets used in most modern astrology. In fact, Pluto is no longer a planet according to the astronomical world, as it got demoted after the discovery of dwarf planet Eris. Asteroid Ceres got promoted to dwarf-planet status at the same time, creating a whole new classification of cosmic bodies. This did not, however, diminish the power inherent in Pluto. Since Pluto is the energy of transformation, is it any surprise that it, alongside the newly discovered dwarf planets, is transforming astrology further? Pluto rules Scorpio and the eighth house and is a night, or exhale, energy.

Pluto symbolizes personal transformation, psychological depth, and the soul’s desire to evolve. As the guardian of the underworld, Pluto guards our personal resources that are buried in the depths of our psyche. All things that are seen by many as taboo are symbolized by Pluto, including sexuality, repression, depression, and obsessive behaviors. Underlying reality and the realms of karmic wounds are symbolized by Pluto. It’s an intense and powerful energy, which represents both personal empowerment and powerlessness.

Dwarf Planets

The discovery of what are currently called dwarf planets by astronomers is changing astrology further and at a faster rate than ever before; these discoveries coincide with the shift of ages from the Age of Pisces to the Age of Aquarius.

Astrological ages each represent a major time period in history. Each astrological age lasts approximately 2,160 years and we move through all the ages over 25,920 years. The Age of Pisces began around the same time as the birth of Christianity, and we are currently in the transition between the Age of Pisces and the next age, the Age of Aquarius. (Ages go backward through the signs.)

The discovery of Eris in 2005 shook the world of astronomy and led to the new designation of “dwarf planet” in 2006, as well as the demotion of Pluto and promotion of Ceres, formerly believed to be an asteroid, to the new designation.

Since the discovery of Eris, several other dwarf planets have been discovered, including Haumea and MakeMake, with Sedna, Orcus, Quaoar, Varuna, Ixion, and a few other trans-Neptunian objects in the Kuiper belt being considered. Some estimates suggest that there are at least 100 objects that may be classified as dwarf planets that have yet to be discovered in the exploration of the Kuiper belt—and thousands more beyond.

Many astrologers are beginning to explore some of these objects in their work, but because this is a newly discovered realm of study with new discoveries happening all the time, this book will only cover Pluto and Ceres.


It’s important to reiterate that the horoscope or astrological chart does not show gender, color, or even whether it belongs to a human being—events, animals, or anything else can have a horoscope. Astrology is archetypal and mythic but not essentially stereotypical. The stereotypes that may have arisen have more to do with the practitioner and the patriarchal conditioning of society.

Astrology itself does not need to change to be approached in an inclusive and egalitarian way. Astrology itself is neutral. Instead, the approach of the astrologer to their own biases and conditioning must change.

In order to move astrology forward, astrologers must be aware of and begin to shift their own biases and meet each client as a unique individual. Many astrologers use an intake form when booking new clients; seeing a question that asks what pronouns the client prefers is a good thing to look for when choosing an astrologer to work with. Also look at the language they use in their marketing and articles.

When looking at your own chart, I suggest developing the use of the terms “day” and “night” and “inhale” and “exhale” as you interpret it, while becoming aware of your own deeply entrenched gender-normative attitudes. For example, someone with very strong fire and air signs may be typically described as having a very “masculine” chart. Saying the chart has a day and inhale emphasis is far more inclusive for all people and attitudes.

Planetary Dignities and Debilities

All planets are not only considered to have rulership over or domicile in one or more signs, they are also considered to be more aligned with certain signs and less so with others. These are called dignities and debilities. Consideration of dignities and debilities after rulership will deepen your understanding of the planets and signs in a horoscope.

The four essential dignities are:

  1. Rulership: This is where the planet is most at home (reference your individual sign in this book, where I note rulership).
  2. Detriment: When the planet is in the opposite sign to its rulership, it is said to be weakened.
  3. Exaltation: This is the sign that provides the best expression of the planet after its domicile.
  4. Fall: When the planet is in the opposite sign to its exaltation, it’s said to be at its weakest.

If a planet falls in none of these, it is said to be peregrine and aspects become more crucial. It must be noted that experience shows that detriment and fall don’t always play out negatively, especially when well-aspected.

This is a brief list of planetary dignities and debilities:

  • The Sun: Rulership in Leo, detriment in Aquarius, exaltation in Aries, fall in Libra
  • The Moon: Rulership in Cancer, detriment in Capricorn, exaltation in Taurus, fall in Scorpio
  • Mercury: Rulership in Gemini and Virgo, detriment in Sagittarius and Pisces, exaltation in Virgo, fall in Pisces
  • Venus: Rulership in Taurus and Libra, detriment in Scorpio and Aries, exaltation in Pisces, fall in Virgo
  • Mars: Rulership in Aries and Scorpio, detriment in Libra and Taurus, exaltation in Capricorn, fall in Cancer
  • Jupiter: Rulership in Sagittarius and Pisces, detriment in Gemini and Virgo, exaltation in Cancer, fall in Capricorn
  • Saturn: Rulership in Capricorn and Aquarius, detriment in Cancer and Leo, exaltation in Libra, fall in Aries
  • Uranus: Rulership in Aquarius, detriment in Leo, exaltation in Scorpio, fall in Taurus
  • Neptune: Rulership in Pisces, detriment in Virgo, exaltation in Leo (or Cancer, depending on whose work you read), fall in Aquarius (or Capricorn)
  • Pluto: Rulership in Scorpio, detriment in Taurus, exaltation in Aries (or Pisces), fall in Libra (or Virgo)

After interpreting the building blocks of the horoscope thus far, it’s now time to begin to integrate the disparate parts of the chart into a cohesive story of the soul. In the next chapter we’ll look at aspects, which are the angled lines that connect all the different parts together.