Oh My Stars

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One of the most important ideas in traditional astrology is also one of those things that sometimes puts people off from learning more about it: the concept of planetary rulerships, dignities, and debilities. What’s really interesting and useful about knowing what the planet rules what Sign is that it helps you understand the nature of both the Sign and the planet in question.

In traditional astrology, the Sun and Moon each rule one Sign, and the other planets each rule two Signs. A planet in the Sign that it rules is said to be in its “home” or “rulership.” All else being equal, A planet in the Sign that it rules is considered to be “strong.” Furthermore, each planet is also “exalted” in one of the Signs. If the planet in a Sign that it rules is strong, then a planet in its exalted placement can be said to “be doing its best work.”

An example of this is Mars, which traditionally rules Aries and Scorpio. Having your Mars in Aries and Scorpio probably gives you pretty good strength and drive. Mars is exalted in Capricorn, meaning that not only is Mars their strong, it takes on the hard working and ambitious qualities of Capricorn, so that it does its best work.

(I’m not going to be talking about the so-called “outer planets” in this article: Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. Things are complex enough when dealing with the traditional dealerships alone, thank you very much.)

That’s all fine and well, but what if a planet in your birth chart is in a Sign that is opposite to one of the “good” placements? If a planet is opposite a Sign it rules, it is said to be in its “detriment.” If a planet is opposite the Sign where it is exalted, it is said to be in “its fall.” Planets in the sign of their detriment or fall often have a harder time functioning properly then they do when they are in a “good” place.

That’s all fine and well, but when you’re looking at your own birth chart and suddenly realize something like “holy cow, my Mercury is debilitated, does that mean I’m stupid?” it can be pretty off-putting.

This is why that, although traditional astrological interpretations work pretty well, we have to be careful when integrating those factors into our picture of a complete person. This is also why computer-generated personality reports are often so much less satisfying than an interpretation by a human astrologer who knows what he or she is talking about. A computer generated report is likely to either be missing the point by being too harsh, or its wording will be so heavily vetted that it ends up saying very little.

Since so many people get put off by astrology when they discovered that this planet or that planet of theirs is “debilitated” or “in its fall,” let’s clear some things up right now by looking at how the planets in the birth chart can really function when they are in a supposedly bad neighborhood.

SUN: The Sun rules Leo, and is exalted in Aries. Therefore, the Sun is debilitated in Aquarius and in its fall in Libra. Since the Sun rules things like the ego, your vitality levels, and public recognition, does that mean that if you are an Aquarius or a Libra you will always be a sickly schlub who dies in miserable obscurity?

Heck no! Sun in Aquarius often means that you simply aren’t letting your ego get in the way of your higher mind, your better motivations, or anyone else unnecessarily. And Sun in Libra gives you those classic Libra qualities of recognizing the other guy’s viewpoint, and that no one makes it to the top of the mountain entirely alone.

MOON: The Moon rules Cancer and is exalted in Taurus, therefore the Moon is in its detriment in Capricorn and is in its fall in Scorpio.

The Moon is your emotional core, your instinctive responses, and how your mind works before things like language and logic get in the way. And in my experience, Moon in Capricorn and Moon in Scorpio are perhaps the two most un-necessarily picked on placements in the zodiac.

Moon in Capricorn isn’t unfeeling…it’s emotions are strong and fierce. So strong, in fact, that sometimes you’ll find you simply have to hide them away before you scare anyone off with them. Likewise, Scorpio has strong and fierce feelings. That too can be unintentionally intimidating for others around you. Moon also has an association with memory, and let’s be honest here: have you ever known anyone with Moon in Scorpio who could forget a slight easily?

MERCURY: Mercury rules Gemini and Virgo, and is (for some strange reason) exalted in either Virgo or (depending on who you ask) in Aquarius. Mercury rules language, communication, and logic. So we all know that Geminis can talk a good game, and we all know how analytical Virgo can be. But what about Mercury in Pisces, which is either its detriment and/or its fall (again depending on who you ask)?

Have you ever heard of “fuzzy logic”? It is a vital concept in high level computing, and at the risk of oversimplifying it, here’s how it works: The question “is there a carton of milk in the fridge?” can be answered with either a simple YES or NO. But that’s simple answer tells us absolutely nothing about how much milk is in the carton, whether or not it has gone bad yet, and whether or not it is whole milk or skim. For those qualitative answers that tell us so much more about the Universe rather than simply YES or NO, you need “fuzzy logic.” In my experience, people with Mercury in Pisces excel at that sort of thing.

Now, as for the whole thing about where Mercury is actually exalted? Don’t get me started. The answer would require a whole lot of fuzzy logic, and I haven’t got all day. So let’s take a brief break before we continue and consider the case of Cleo, who (as a Libra) has her Sun in its fall. 

beliefnet astrology matthew curried debilitated planets

Haven’t found anything debilitated in this box. Carry on.

VENUS: Venus rules Taurus and Libra, thus it is in its full in Scorpio and Aries. Venus is exalted in Pisces, therefore it is in its fall in Virgo. Since Venus has a lot to do with who and how we love and the things we enjoy, does that mean if you have your Venus in Scorpio, Aries, or Virgo you are doomed to be a Scrooge D’Amour and/or perpetually alone? Nope.

Venus in Scorpio and Venus in Aries both have tremendous intensity to them. They don’t sit around waiting for love to fall into their lap… unless they built a cleverly concealed trap for it, that is… they go out and they get it. They appreciate romantic boldness. Every Cindarella story needs a Prince Charming willing to fight off some dragons or climb a tower to make that happy ending. If you’ve got Venus in Scorpio or Aries, regardless of your gender, you’re probably that Prince Charming somehow. And Virgos are well known for their caring, thoughtful, and helpful nature… and really, couldn’t love use more of that sort of thing?

MARS: Mars traditionally rules Aries and Scorpio, and is exalted in Capricorn. Therefore Mars is debilitated in Libra or Taurus, and is in its fall in Cancer. If Mars is your drive and ambition and strength to face adversity, that if you have a “bad” Mars placement, are you going to be either weak willed and/or an uncontrolled rage machine?

Not necessarily. Mars is passion, and Taurus has plenty of that. Libra is “relationship oriented.” Mars in Libra understands you can’t just sit around waiting for peace and harmony to arrive on its own all the time. And yes, Mars in Cancer can be a touchy placement… but an unprovoked Mars is essentially a useless Mars.

JUPITER: Jupiter rules Sagittarius and, traditionally, Pisces. It is exalted in Cancer. Thus, Jupiter is in its detriment in Gemini and Virgo, and is in its fall in Capricorn. Jupiter generally stands for your personal philosophy, higher education, and humor. Does that mean you’re going to be some sort of unthoughtful, uneducated, humorless lunkhead if you have a “bad” Jupiter? Nah.

Jupiter in Gemini has a particular gift for words and language and communication, which are a vital part of humor. Jupiter in Gemini can keep its philosophy flexible, which is a good thing, because what philosopher has gotten it all right yet? Jupiter in Virgo is able to bring a more expensive worldview to a Sign that otherwise can get too hung up on the daily details. And Capricorn can bring a sense of structure and order to Jupiter that it often sorely lacks.

SATURN: Saturn traditionally rules Capricorn and Aquarius, and is exalted in Libra. So Saturn is in its detriment in Cancer and Leo, and is in its fall in Aries. Since Saturn rules structure, order teeth and bones, does that mean you will always be a scattered, inefficient, and frail creature if you have Saturn in one of those places? Really? Have you been reading this article at ALL if you still think that?

Although it’s easy to say bad things about Saturn even at the best of times, by now you’ve probably figured out what I’m getting at.


Having debilitated planets is not a bad thing at all, necessarily. For one thing, how any one part of your life functions is dependent on a lot more than simply the Sign placement of one planet. There are house rulerships and house placements and aspects and midpoints and fixed stars and other things to consider too.

Let me give you one real life example: myself. I have both my Mercury and Jupiter in their detriment… In fact they’re both retrograde as well. Mercury rules writing, and Jupiter rules publishing. Yet somehow, I make a living off of writing and am also a published author.

But, proofreading, editing myself, and doing second and third drafts? It’s like pulling teeth. I don’t have half the patience for proofreading and editing myself that I should. Nonetheless, I am still able to write for a living.

So as you can see, having one or more of the planets and your birth chart in a “bad place” does not necessarily mean bad results. As Eric Clapton so wisely put it: “it’s in the way that you use it.” Eric Clapton, by the way, has a debilitated Moon, Jupiter and Saturn… so of course, he could never be a success, right…?

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