Home Page










Email Kim Farnell




Planetary Rulership

In astrology each of the planets are allocated meanings. These associations and relative positions of the planets are integral to astrological interpretation. Although meanings allocated to any particular planet often seem obvious to one steeped in astrological theory, an outsider is likely to get the impression that long and comprehensive lists have to be learned by rote before an attempt can be made to use the meanings in interpretation. This is one thing that has led rise to innumerable complaints about the arbitrary nature of astrology from those decrying its use.
"I know that astrology isn't a science,'' said Gail. ``Of course it isn't. It's just an arbitrary set of rules like chess or tennis or-what's that strange thing you British play?'' "Er, cricket? Self-loathing?'' "Parliamentary democracy."

Douglas Adams- Mostly Harmless

"Astrology is based on 'arbitrary assumptions' and 'arbitrary rules'."

"Mars is an actual planet. The symbolism which has been imposed on it is arbitrary and has no real meaning."

It is claimed that there is no reason at all for astrology to work if individual astrologers make up their own meanings. With no rationale, no inner system and no evidence to support it astrology is therefore a load of nonsense.

There appears to be a consensus amongst commentators on astrology that the associations made by astrologers with the planets are arbitrary and unsystematic. Some go further and suggest or imply that astrologers enjoy sitting down and making up meanings to go with the planets so that they can sell their books. It is not only the anti astrology camp that thinks like this. Many astrologers don't appear to know from where the meanings of the planets are derived and simply state that they are "heavy with history and legend" and that their meanings are derived from the classical associations between gods and the planets. And there are astrologers who believe that the associations are arbitrary, but they don't waste time worrying about it.

Astrologers are studying signs and meanings, (so the argument goes), and the arbitrariness of associations isn't a problem. Are the meanings attributed to the planets arbitrary? It is impossible to say when the first meanings were allocated and why or how, but there is a remarkable degree of consistency of meaning through the ages. It is tempting to assume that the associations are indeed arbitrary because if they are not so that opens the possibility of astrology having some validity.

Astrologers have long sought to explain how the meanings attached to the planets are allocated and how they fit into a coherent system. Explanations given in different eras are consistent with the philosophy adhered to by astrologers at that time. The meanings themselves lie largely unchanged over centuries.

In order to demonstrate how the meanings allocated to the planets within astrology over time were explained I propose to take a chronological survey of planetary meanings within astrology, beginning with contemporary astrology.

It is clearly impossible in the space available to examine every view and the full range of material available relating to planetary rulerships in great detail. Rather, indicative texts and a broad sweep of views in each period will be surveyed. Additionally, the allocation of meaning to the more recently discovered planets is a long study in itself and so this paper focuses on the seven classical planets only.

The move towards a psychologically based form of astrology during the latter part of the twentieth century has led to the explanation that planetary meanings are derived from the mythological associations made between the planets and the gods for whom they are named.

They are seen as representing archetypal forces that exist in the individual's psyche as well as in the soul of the world. The meanings allocated to Uranus, Neptune and Pluto are seen as consistent with what was happening in the world at the time of their discovery.

The Sun, therefore, becomes a masculine archetype and derives its meanings from myths of solar deities. The Moon is similarly associated with lunar mythologies, although selectively. The association of the Moon with masculine deities is generally ignored as it is accepted as a feminine planet. Mercury becomes the Roman messenger of the gods and Venus is the Roman goddess Venus, with a small dose of the Greek Aphrodite - and so on.

By psychologising the planetary functions the more negative aspects of the planetary associations can be turned into transformative and learning experiences. Saturn is no longer primarily associated with melancholy and so the source of death. It becomes responsible for highlighting issues relating to responsibility and discipline. These theories are largely reliant on the acceptance of many astrologers of the relationship of the work of Carl Jung to astrology. In Jung's work mythology is seen as a key to understanding the mind.

Archetypes are the energetic entities within the unconscious that form the basis for and give structure to cultural images and mythology. They exist in the personal and collective unconscious as form without content. The collective unconscious can be considered a single unconscious basket of archetypes shared by humanity. Just as archetypes are underlying energy patterns of behaviour, the planets and signs of astrology are seen as symbols of cosmic process and universal principles.

Not all modern astrologers accept this point of view. Many adhere to the attitudes pervading astrology in the earlier part of the twentieth century. Much of early twentieth century astrology is derived from Alan Leo, who added a theosophical and spiritual interpretation to those commonly accepted, forming his own brand of "esoteric astrology". In the early stages of his work Leo repeated the elemental theories relating to the planet that would have been familiar to other astrologers of the period. However, he is inconsistent in this and the hot, cold, dry or moist nature of the planet is clearly not primary in his interpretation. In general terms the meanings Leo allocates to the planets vary little from those accepted throughout the previous century. However, it is notable that the tendency developed later of ignoring the more negative associations with Saturn and replacing them with an emphasis on the qualities of reliability and industriousness (for example) instead of the qualities of smelling foul and devouring (for example) given by Roger of Hereford in the twelfth century and numerous writers thereafter.

During the course of the twentieth century the meanings allocated to the planets were largely consistent with those that could be found in nineteenth century texts. Allusions existed to the doctrine of signatures used to explain planetary meanings in previous times, but most writers appeared to be satisfied with the explanation that these were the meanings attributed by "the ancients".

With astrology only having recently recovered in the early nineteenth century most of the works produced reiterated the rulerships given in the seventeenth century or earlier. In 1801 Frances Barrett abridged the work of Cornelius Agrippa and published it as his own work in The Magus, or Celestial Intelligencer (London 1801). This became highly popular and reintroduced the work of Agrippa to a modern audience. Agrippa's contribution is briefly discussed below and his theories received a new lease of life in nineteenth century astrology and occultism.

The latter part of the nineteenth century saw the rise of theosophy and the repopularising of the works of writers such as Paracelsus and Jakob Bohme. The theory of correspondences and signatures as outlined in below gained new ground and coupled with the occult revival were again used to explain the natural rulerships of the planets.

One of the most prominent astrologers of the eighteenth century was Ebenezer Sibly (1751-1800), the author of A New and Complete Illustration of the Occult Sciences published in 1790.

Sibley's work was largely reliant on the works of Emanuel Swedenborg , who he names as one of his sources, and whose Heaven and Hell first appeared in 1758. When it comes to planetary rulerships he does not veer from tradition at all. However, being a Swedenborgian his rationale for the reasons why the rulerships worked was a little different.

It is generally accepted that astrology died out during the eighteenth century. However, one place where it continued was within the world of freemasonry and Sibly was a freemason.

Many lodges and Masonic societies welcomed Swedenborg's teaching. Swedenborg developed the doctrine of correspondences that states the relationship between spirit and matter. He had practiced as a Natural Philosopher for over fifty years and carried over a systematic and scientific sensibility to his cosmology. For many, Swedenborgianism became an umbrella philosophy under which other occult ideas could be given a collective rationale - even if these were only remotely related to Swedenborg's doctrines.

Swedenborg propounded a system of correspondences. He believed the occult doctrine, "As Above, So Below," and taught that everything on earth corresponds to a spiritual reality. Additionally he taught that the human is a map of the universe, and that everything in nature has a correspondence to something pertaining to the human being. To Swedenborg the true correspondent of any natural object is that, spiritual entity by means of which God created and sustains the object in the physical plane. Sibley takes pains to point out that his work is reliant on the doctrine of sympathy and antipathy. He explains that everything is drawn by its like. The associations with the planets are not at all arbitrary to Sibley, but are indications of a wide sweeping doctrine.

Although Sibly retains the traditional associations relating to planets in his work, he uses a different philosophical base to understand how the associations work. Although Swedenborg's views were quickly assimilated by astrology, by the twentieth century his influence had been forgotten so much that Charles Carter was able to say in a lecture given in 1955 "I do not know what he thought on the subject of astrology."

The doctrine of signatures was popular in some circles for centuries, but it did not become part of medical thinking until the middle of the seventeenth century. In simple terms, the doctrine is the idea that God has marked everything created with a sign (signature). The sign was an indication of the purpose for the creation of the item.

The idea was popularised in the early seventeenth century by the writings of Jakob Bhme (1575-1624), a master shoemaker in the small town of Grlitz, Germany. At the age of 25, Bhme had a profound mystical vision in which he saw the relationship between God and man. As a result of the vision, he wrote Signatura Rerum; The Signature of all Things. His book espoused a spiritual philosophy; however it soon was adopted for its medical application.

The doctrine states that, by observation, one can determine from the colour of the flowers or roots, the shape of the leaves, the place of growing, or other signatures, what the plant's purpose was in God's plan.

The works of Paracelsus , previously published in German, also became highly popular in the seventeenth century as a way of explaining planetary correspondences. Although written in the previous century many of the English translations became widely available in the seventeenth century.

Paracelsus wrote on the nature of the planets and their properties. In considering their nature he evaluated the elemental balance of each planet. Rather than simply using the definitions of hot, cold, dry and moist, Paracelsus also looked at the level of each, for example describing Jupiter as moderate fire and moderate cold. Paracelsus made the difference between the actual and the spiritual metals as used in alchemy. The rulerships could vary depending on the type of metal to be considered. In describing herbs and plants he likewise attributed degrees of heat and moisture and provided extremely detailed lists of substances and their elemental balance. However, he noted that even these rules had exceptions.

He elucidated the much older doctrine of signatures, using an analogy of the shape, size, colour, taste, nature of habitat, processes of development, etc. of a particular substance to deduce its potential medicinal powers on parts of the human body.

Paracelsus considered that that the sky and the air do not only exist in the outer in the macrocosm, but also in the interior of humans. A drug depends on the will of the corresponding planet, is guided and ruled by the planet, for example the plants belonging to Moon are guided by Moon to the brain. Therefore it is essential to know which planet governs which drug.

One of the most memorable proponents of the theory in the seventeenth century was Nicholas Culpeper , who took advantage of this theory to explain the rulerships of planets he allocated to herbs used for medicinal purposes.

Although there often appear to be wide differences in the planetary rulerships allocated to herbs and plants, it is important to remember that the rulerships could vary depending on what part of the plant was being considered and to the use it was being put. For example, roots were thought to influence the brain, stems the skeletal structure and flowers the lower belly and genitals. Obviously the system was far more complex than this. Therefore the differences may not be as wide as at first appears. Other writers adhered strongly to the works of Cornelius Agrippa in explaining planetary associations.

It would be ludicrous to consider astrology in the seventeenth century without looking at the works of William Lilly. In Christian Astrology (1647) he provides copious lists of rulerships including places, gemstones, occupations and plants drawn from a variety of sources.

Lilly describes the planets in terms of their elemental nature, occasionally making a distinction between the level of the element as in his description of Venus being temperately cold and moist. However, Lilly does not attempt to explain where the rulerships came from or develop any systematic approach to allocating them. Owing to the popularity of Lilly's work until the nineteenth century and its revival in the late twentieth century, the lists offered by Lilly are the most standard used from this point.

Not all contemporaries of Lilly agreed with his approach. In Country Astrology John Pool (1650) listed many of the occupations Lilly placed under a single planetary rulership as being under a combination of planets. For example, although Mars ruled surgeons, butchers and barbers, Mars conjunct Saturn was the ruler specifically of surgeons, Mars conjunct Sun the ruler of an healer of eyes and Mars conjunct Mercury the ruler of blood letters. It seems clear that many of the rulerships given by Lilly have been simplified from earlier sources. In the case of Venus, although music comes under its rulership the ruler of those who sing at funerals is allocated to Venus conjunct Saturn and trumpeters to Venus conjunct Mars. The system outlined in this book allows for far more specific rulerships than given by Lilly.

The association of planets and gems was particularly important during the sixteenth century. Although generally astrological associations were used there was also a tradition that a special gem for each month was probably founded on the original breastplate of the High Priest, which contained twelve gems, on for each of the tribes of Israel. The allocation of gems for each month largely came from this tradition rather than any association with signs of the zodiac. However, at a later date the associations with the planets were subsumed into zodiac signs and the lists were muddled with the Hebrew list producing a number of contradictions in lists of birthstones.

The most important writer in this period was Cornelius Agrippa. His De Occulta Philosophia Bk I, Ch xxxii states:

"...every stone, or plant, or animal, or any other thing is not governed by one star alone, but many of them receive influence, not separated but conjoined from many stars".

A plant, herb, jewel, bird, animal or whatever could partake of the qualities of several planets and Agrippa went on to explain how these virtues worked. His system was much more complex than that of direct single planetary correspondences as appears in more recent literature.
Agrippa's multiple rulerships highlight the richness and complexity of the doctrine of signatures in renaissance astrology and magic. These multiple rulerships were used when preparing astrological talismans enabling the preparer to make a highly individual talisman according to the person's horoscope.

Agrippa saw the entire Cosmos as one great, interconnected Being, a system based on intricate harmony, sympathy and correspondence, both spiritual and material. He reiterated the elemental basis of all things as described in earlier texts. Agrippa saw the elements as having three natures, the pure and incorruptible form, the changeable and compounded form and those which were not originally elements but are compounded and changed and act as a medium.

Agrippa acknowledged that working out what each planet ruled was a fine art:-

"Now it is very hard to know, what Star, or Signe every thing is under: yet it is known through the imitation of their rayes, or motion, or figure of the superiours. "

He stated that there were certain objects that held solar or lunar properties and he drew on the relationship between the ruling planets and exalted planets in the zodiac signs to explain this. He explained the association of the planets with parts of the body as given by "the Arabians". The rulerships he gives are those generally accepted in later years apart from a few differences, for example he gives Venus as ruling the womb when it is more usually associated with the Moon. He also described the occupations as being distributed according to the planets, giving one planet rather than a combination as seen in earlier texts.

He listed a huge number of objects, gems, plants, animals etc associated with each planet. The lists he gives are broadly the same as found in seventeenth century and later texts. In an attempt to be more systematic Agrippa explained how different things were associated with each planet. For example, a plant that bore fruit was related to Jupiter whereas its flowers related to Venus, seed or bark to Mercury, wood to Mars and leaves to the Moon. This means that a plant does not have a single planetary ruler but that the ruling planet is chosen according to the use to which it is being put.

Agrippa gives a variety of sources for his comprehensive lists and although he makes few changes to what can be found in other sources he offers an easy reference source for working astrologers. Unlike other sources however, he also includes the fixed stars in his system of rulerships.

During the fifteenth century much of the work produced on planetary rulerships related to gemstones and herbals. The lists given vary but are substantially the same as those that appear in later centuries. It was believed that each stone possessed a sort of living personality, which could expel sickness and disease.

In addition to individual planets being associated with herbs, more complicated systems were drawn up. Differences were drawn between different parts of the plant being considered and different proposed types of usage. The meanings given were based on the elemental associations of the plant and its ruling planet or planets.

The primary rationale for the associations with planets was the doctrine of signatures. This represented the centerpiece of mediaeval cosmology. The planets and their movements governed everything. Their inherent qualities were reflected in all animate and inanimate things on earth. As the planets moved along their path their expressions changed depending on the particular characteristics and elemental quality of the sign through which they were passing. Everything in the Universe was not just ruled by a particular planet but was also perceived as a manifestation of the elements and their respective qualities according to their level of heat and moisture.

According to this cosmology the planetary energies reverberated through the spheres and echoed through the four realms of existence leaving their mark or signature in all aspects of the world.

The doctrine of signature did not take a structured approach that takes into account measurable and countable units instead it presented images and archetypal symbols that required an intuitive mode of observation in order to make sense. There was much room for argument and disagreement in this approach.

One of the most important works in this context during the fifteenth century was the Picatrix, or Ghayat al Hakim, the Aim of the Wise, a medieval manuscript drawing on earlier sources, all pre-1000 AD and concerned with astrological magic. Although it was composed in Arabic in Andalusia around 1000 A.D., and translated into Latin in 1256 it was during the fifteenth century that it began to be widely used.

The Picatrix focussed mainly on electional astrology and so the rulerships of the planets were essential factors to be considered. The doctrine of correspondences was a key factor and long lists of such correspondences were compiled by the author of Picatrix. Divided into four books, the Picatrix devoted the whole of Book Three to the qualities of the planets and signs and advised how to speak to planetary spirits.

Certain stones, plants and animals were said to have a special relationship with the seven planets and twelve zodiacal signs. The lists cover planetary stones, psychological faculty, activities, language, exterior and interior parts of the human body, law or religion, colour, profession, taste, places, stones, metals, trees, herbs, spices, animals, birds and insects for each planet.

By the thirteenth century astrologers had access to much of the material published by Arabic astrologers in translation. One of the primary figures during the thirteenth century was Raymond (Ramon) Lull (c1235-1316). Underlying Lull's schemes was a theoretical philosophy and the essential element in his method was the identification of theology with philosophy.

Lull held that there was no distinction between philosophy and theology, between reason and faith, so that even the highest mysteries may be proved by means of logical demonstration. This removed all distinction between natural and supernatural truth.

In his Book of the Seven Planets, Lull described the attributes of the signs and planets in relation to the elements and how the planets acted when placed in each sign. In addition to the attributes commonly given to the planets, Lull also attributed properties according to what he had observed in his work.

Along with lists of attributes, Lull also sought to explain why those particular attributes were associated with each planet. Saturn, for example, was bad as melancholy is a source of death. People who were born under the influence of Saturn were grave and heavy because of the earth make up of Saturn.

Saturn was not simply an earthy planet however, it had a dry and cold nature and it was this combination that gave the characteristics for people being born under Saturn to be hard workers and to build large structures. Lull warned that when talking about the character as described in the horoscope the proximity of other planets could alter its condition.

Continuing in a similar fashion with the other planets, Lull explained their meanings in terms of their elemental balance and how hot, cold, dry and moist they are. However, although he does mention some mundane associations - for example occupations, his work is primarily about a description of character that can be derived from planetary placement. Lull is unusual in this in that the majority of texts would be concerned with making long lists of objects and ideas that are associated with each planet.

Many of Lulls descriptions would be happily accepted by astrologers today apart from the language being tempered a little the negative associations made with Saturn are unlikely to be offered in such damning language in an interpretation in modern times.

However, there are some variations to the rulerships generally accepted by the seventeenth century. For example, as Lull associated Jupiter strongly with blood he additionally associated it with anyone who would be likely to draw blood - butchers, hunters etc. Usually these fall under the remit of Mars on the basis that Mars is concerned with tools and cutting. Lull also associated Jupiter with a number of attributes that are normally connected to Venus - textiles, painters of art, clothes and ornaments.

He proceeded to investigate why the badness and goodness accepted were associated with each planet and why each were associated with the specific elemental balance.

Lull discussed in detail combinations of elements and how this worked in terms of character and in choosing medicines to resolve problems that fell under the domain of said planet. He sought to explain that a planet did not transmit anything but acted only in terms of its sympathy and likeness by comparing the planets and signs to an impression left by a wax seal.

He described all to have both proper and appropriated qualities. The proper qualities are as he described in his lists of associations consisting of goodness, greatness, and duration etc - things that arose from their elemental base.

Appropriated qualities are such things as masculinity, femininity and such things as metals, days of the week; Planets could exercise action on bodies by dint of these qualities.

Bonatti's Liber Astronomiae was written some time after 1282 and is widely considered to be the most important astrological work of the thirteenth century. It was complied from the Latin translations of most of the Arabic works available at that time and being written in Latin was widely disseminated and read becoming one of the most influential astrology texts ever written.

Bonatti viewed the planets as having a concrete, physical influence on sublunar bodies. For example, early signs are described as acting on the earth element. He argues against the planets having signification over universal situations and not particulars. If that were true then the planets could only signify species and not individuals and bodily parts as they were generally accepted as being able to do.

Each planet has a long list of natural rulerships. Bonatti begins by outlining its elemental nature and its basic rulerships. In doing so he attempts to explain the associations. For example, Saturn is slow and heavy and therefore is associated with all things of this nature.

Bonatti used the humours in his definitions and allies them with the elemental balance of the allocated rulerships. When it comes to occupations Bonatti details the conjunctions of the planets to give specific occupations in the same way as is found in Arabic texts such as those of Albubater. These rulerships are given in seventeenth century texts and appear to be taken directly from Bonatti's work - for example, John Pool's Country Astrology.

The rulerships given by Bonatti are those found in other texts although he offers more detail than many. Therefore a comparison on individual things ruled will occasionally throw up differences. Saturn conjunct Mars, for example, is said to be associated with the working of leather from which the soles of shoes are made. This level of detail is rarely reached in other texts and so a direct comparison is difficult.

Until the twelfth century astrological knowledge in the west was virtually limited to Macrobius's Commentarium in Sommium Scipionis , the writings of Firmicus Maternus, and the Latin commentaries on Plato's Timaeus. Then began the translation into Latin of numerous Arabic texts and astrology began to enjoy unprecedented popularity.

Along with the proliferation of calendars and almanacs began a burgeoning of astrological imagery, There appeared two unprecedented types of image: first, the melothesia, which shows the astrological signs, mainly those of the zodiac, distributed on the human body; second, planetary images representing the divinities attributed to each of the seven planets. These planetary allegories usually show the divinity in a chariot, above a group of figures known as his or her children, hence the name Children of the Planets that is given to this widespread iconographical genre. In these drawings, the children are persons who supposedly represent the human characteristics of the relevant god; they are shown in series or in groups, presided over by the planet. The attributes of each planet could now be understood even by the illiterate.

Roger of Hereford was born about 1150 and spent much of his life writing and teaching in Hereford. His enthusiasm for the new learning coming from the Arabs was not matched by many of his contemporaries, but he became sufficiently well connected to be appointed an itinerant justice and to cast the Queen's horoscope. His work relies heavily on the work of Abu Ma'shar and of Al-Khwarizmi, but he also made a substantial contribution himself. His best-known work, Liber de astronomice iudicandi was a compilation of information from various books. It was a practical work full of tables and rules and notably devoid of philosophy. Roger even supplied a worked horoscope as an example, thought to be that of Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Arabic texts had arrived in England by the start of the century. The available tables now made it possible to predict, rather than simply measure, planetary positions and opened the way for a more pragmatic astrology. Roger's works were owned by John Dee.

Roger regarded astrology as more certain than medicine and therefore a superior science. The rules he supplied he stated had not been previously collected together and much of his material related to the nature of the planets. He used whole sign houses. The signs of the zodiac in Roger's astrology are on the whole passive rather than active. The strength and influence of the planets can be modified by which sign they are in, but it is still the planets on which the astrologer depends for interpretations. The signs of the zodiac seem to be more important as a co-ordinate system than as a diagnostic tool, and the attributes given are those of humans ruled by the signs.

All the planets are potential significators for the practice of judicial astrology and the success of a diagnosis or election depends on the correct choice of significator. As much information as possible about the properties of each planet therefore had to be included to reduce the likelihood of error. He therefore offered a checklist of meanings for each of the planets.

The longest entry is on Saturn under the section on planets, which are listed in order of their spheres (Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, Moon). No attempt was made to explain why these attributes were allocated to the planets but rather this is a combination of associations from a number of sources, some newly available to the west. However, a comparison with meanings given four centuries later shows that these meanings soon became generally accepted and entrenched in astrological literature.

Arabic texts had begun to be available in translation in the West. Although many of these texts date from the eighth and ninth centuries, their influence in England was strongest from the fifteenth century onwards when they became more readily available. However, some of the information included in these texts was available from an early stage so their influence is being considered here.

Many of the texts related to medicine and the medicinal virtues attributed to herbs at this time are largely traceable to old Greek sources, particularly those of Dioscorides and Galen.

One of the most important Arabic writers on astrology was Ja'far ibn Muhammad Ab Ma'shar al-Balkh (c.787-886), known in the West as Albumasar. Some fifty books are credited to him. His work became widely available during the fifteenth century through translations. Albumassar gave rulerships in his texts that are broadly the same as those used in later centuries.

Ab Bakr al-Hasan ibn al-Khasb (late 9th century), known in the West as Albubater, wrote a very popular book on natal astrology, which was translated c.1225 at Padua, Italy, by Salio (or Solomon) - the De nativitatibus, which was published in an astrological compendium at Venice in 1492 and in another in 1493. The book offers natal configurations that indicate some tendency or condition that the native will have. When listing occupations or professions, it is notable that Albubater used combinations of planets, rather than single planets to indicate particular occupations.

Lilly mentions Albubater in Christian Astrology, p. 632, and it is clear that he uses many of the definitions Albubater offered, although much simplified.

Another important writer is Theophilus of Edessa (c.695-785), who became court astrologer to the Caliph al-Mahd (d.785). Theophilus wrote four treatises on astrology in Greek. He stated the nature of the stars as being specific and described dispositions and characteristics allocated to each planet. For example, agricultural matters went with Saturn, speech Mercury. Theophilus described how in the past the stars were made use of according to their general and specific nature.

Al-Biruni, 973-1048 CE made some different associations to those commonly used. For example, copper, which was normally associated with Venus is associated with Mars . The point was made in his work that common popular associations are not necessarily the same as those that the astrologers use. He was clearly aware of the differences of rulership he recommended and believed that popular associations came from a different tradition and were not necessarily originally astrologically based.

Al Biruni detailed planetary associations with parts of the body and specific diseases in his Book of Instruction in the Elements of the Art of Astrology. For example Saturn: Earth, black bile and occasionally crude phlegm. Hair, nails, skin, feathers, wool, bones, marrow and horn. Spleen. Some of this varies from other lists available, for example he places the womb under the rulership of Venus whereas it was more commonly given to the Moon. And some of his associations are not to be easily found elsewhere, it at all, for example the association with Jupiter with birth by Caesarian section. Being well traveled and studied Al Biruni was able to amalgamate knowledge from a variety of different sources.

The Greek physician Claudius Galenos, known as Galen(130 CE), was responsible for assimilating and reorganising medical theories. For the next 1500 years Western medicine was termed Galenical and extended its influence throughout Europe and into the New World.

Galen believed in a vital energy or creative force that he called pneuma similar to the Ayurvedic "prana." He accepted the concept of the humours which arise out of the liver and form a subtle network throughout the body. He also assigned foods and herbs to each of the four humours.

The four humours were four fluids that were supposed to permeate the body and influence its health. The humours were made up of the elements as follows:- Sanguine (air) hot/moist, Phlegmatic (water) cold/moist, Melancholic (earth) cold, dry, Choleric (fire) hot/dry. The humours each had associated physical and mental characteristics; the result was a system that was quite subtle in its capacity for describing types of personality. In addition, different humours could be combined for more complex personality types: choleric-sanguine, phlegmatic-melancholic, and so on.

It is believed that Hippocrates was the one who applied this idea to medicine. The imbalance of humours was thought to be the direct cause of all diseases. A major part of ancient doctrine was the use of humours. A humour is that that fluid moist "body" into which our ailment is transferred into actual body substance either by itself or in combination with something else.

In Galen's system, herbs, plants, and other medicines, operate either by heat, coldness, dryness, or moisture. They were divided into a number of types with drugs being classified by their affinity to humours. Galen classified drugs into four degrees of one or more of the qualities warm, cold, moist, and dry. A drug might be warm in the second degree and moist in the third degree. This gave him a rough idea of the type and severity of the disease that the drug could treat.

The difference between these degrees in terms of hot and cold values is that a second degree hot substance would speed up metabolism, while a second degree cold would slow it down. In the fourth degree, the difference would become more apparent, when a hot herb would cause an increase of metabolism beyond the limits that support life, while a fourth degree cold substance would slow down metabolism to the point of death. The correct degree of moisture and heat needed to be chosen as a wrong medicine could result in further damage. The intention was to achieve a balance of the relevant humours.

All concrete objects are related by the four elements. And through these same four primary elements, all objects are related to (and influenced by) the planets (which also have primary qualities within them). Galen's work was the basis of medicine for many centuries and his division of the elements into four classes permeated astrological theory and so the allocation of rulerships to the planets.

Also during the second century Sextus Empericus wrote his treatise Against the Astrologers. In this he makes it clear that there is sympathy between things on earth and things in the heavens.

The Corpus Hermeticum is a collection of texts from the second and third centuries of our era that survived from a more extensive literature. These texts are claimed to be the work of Hermes Trismegistus, said to have been an Egyptian wise man who flourished before Pharaoh's time.

In the middle of the second century BCE, the unknown author of an astrology manual fathered his work on a pharaoh who ruled five centuries earlier, Nechepso, and on the high priest Petosiris, who reputedly took his revelation from Hermes and may correspond to an historical figure of the fourth century. Fragments of the handbook bearing the names of Nechepso and Petosiris survive in the Anthology of Vettius Valens, a Roman astrologer who wrote in Greek in the second century CE. Valens is one of the earliest writers to attribute natural rulerships to the planets.

The Hermetic texts applied astrology to special circumstances, for example a treatise Peri seismon related earthquakes to astrological signs. The Book of Asclepius Called Myriogenesis discussed the medical consequences of the theory of correspondence between human microcosm and universal macrocosm - a theory that was to gain renewed hold in the seventeenth century. The Asclepius has Hermes upbraiding his pupil Asclepius:

"Do you not know, Asclepius, that Egypt is an image of heaven, or, to speak more exactly, in Egypt all the operations of the powers which rule and work in heaven have been transferred to earth below? Nay, it should rather be said that the whole Kosmos dwells in this our land as in its sanctuary."

The earliest known list of planetary rulerships is on a cuneiform tablet from Seleucid (i.e. Hellenistic) Uruk on which are recorded for each zodiacal sign a temple or city, one or two trees, one or two plants and one or two stones. These ideas originated in Mesopotamia.

Mesopotamian religion was polytheistic, with thousands of gods, personifications of every aspect of nature and of human society. The gods were imagined to be much like human beings, save that they never died and were far more powerful. The gods were married and had children, they lived in their temples, where they were represented by their statues. Of the gods listed in Mesopotamian literature, only a few were thought to rule the universe. These were the ones identified with the planets, who became the gods of astrology. However, not all the great gods were primarily astral deities.

The most prominent heavenly bodies are the sun and the moon and they were the oldest and most important astral deities. Sin, the moon-god, was more important to the Mesopotamians than his son, Shamash, the sun. Shamash was the most important astral deity after Sin. He illuminated the world, crossing the sky from entrance to exit in a mule-drawn chariot and was also the god of justice and protector of the oppressed. The third astral deity was the Mesopotamian Venus, Ishtar. She was by far the most important goddess in the later days of Mesopotamian civilization, absorbing most of the others. Jupiter is the brightest of the planets after Venus, and, unlike Venus, can be seen throughout the night, not only at dawn and dusk. It was the star of the king of the gods, Marduk, the patron-deity of the city of Babylon. The remaining planets visible to the naked eye are Saturn, Mars and Mercury, associated with the gods Ninurta, Nergal, and Nabu, respectively.

The associations made between the planets and these gods are different to those attributed to the planets in later times. Ninurta was the god of the spring thunderstorms and god of hunting and warfare. These are attributes more usually associated with Mars. Saturn was also sometimes considered a second sun, representing law and justice, in later times associated with Jupiter.

Nergal was the god of death, especially by disease and violence, and by extension, the god of the underworld, the land of the dead. Nabu was patron of agriculture and commerce, but he was especially the god of scribes and of scholarship. In Enuma Anu Enlil, Mars was the only consistently evil planet. One cuneiform document survives which predicts people's fates from the planets visible when they were born. In this Jupiter is associated with riches and Saturn with sickness and constraint. Exactly the meanings given to these planets today.

By Plato's (429-347 BCE) time, it had become customary to name the planets for the Olympian gods, and the Greek names roughly corresponded to their Mesopotamian equivalents. In the early stages the names were given as "star of.." and later took the name, ad so subsumed the character, of the god himself. The alternative scientific names for the planets circulating during this period (for example, Mercury was Stillbon, Jupiter Paethon) fell from favour, although there was a resurrection in the usage in the seventeenth century.

Elemental attributes were firmly attached to the planets at this stage. For example, Jupiter became Zeus, the king of the gods, among the Greeks and was seen as moderately warm and moist. Mars became the Greek war god, Ares, or sometimes Herakles and was defined as hot and dry. These are the same as given in sources up to the nineteenth century. The actual groupings of the planets affected the influences attributed to them.

The sympathies between the planets and objects that have been described in later times existed in Mesopotamia as well as ancient Greece. Preparing an astrological prescription often included an invocation to the appropriate planet. The origins of this are obscure. Egypt, Greece and Mesopotamia all had old medical traditions which included herbal medicine and the astrological connection could be noted in Mesopotamia, where plants were picked at certain phases of the moon and compounded medicines exposed to the stars.

In Jewish tradition the Letter of Rehoboam or the Sepher Ha-Razim (the Book of Secrets) is a text dating from the third century that contains traditional material on Jewish/Hellenistic magic and incantations, as well as astrological knowledge of the time. In section VI and VII are listed the plants sympathetic with the signs and the planets, respectively, along with instructions for gathering them and using them.

One of the most important passages on astrology is in the Babylonian Talmud, tractate Shabbat. This contains a list of the personality traits associated with the planets. These reflect the qualities usually attributed to the planets in Hellenistic astrology.

The above represents no more than a cursory glance at planetary rulerships and the systems used to explain them over the centuries.

However, it appears apparent that far from the planets natural rulerships being allocated arbitrarily they have a long and consistent tradition. Although the rationale to explain the allocations varies a little over time, in all eras there is recognised an affinity between the planets and concrete objects which does not rely on planets casting rays, as those opposed to astrology appear to delight in believing.

Rather than planetary rulerships being

"a great mass of absurd and contradictory tradition"

It is more correct to note as Geoff Dean points out in Recent Advances.

"Without planets there is no astrology. In contrast to virtually all other astrological concepts there is generally no fundamental disagreement about what each planet represents."



© Kim Farnell 2006.