Over the course of my studies in astrology, I learned as one does about the organizing principles behind signs, houses, rulerships, exaltations, joys, aspects, sect, etc. The internal logic is remarkably consistent and each part relates to the other in one cohesive, elegant whole. However, it began to nag at me that in one particular area of astrology, perhaps the most fundamental feature, has no equivalent line of reasoning. I am of course talking about the astrological natures of the planets. Why should they mean what they do?
The western astrological tradition’s primary ancestor is Babylonian omen astrology, and those astrologers were the first to assign particular natures to the planets1)Rochberg, Francesca. In the Path of the Moon: Babylonian Celestial Divination and Its Legacy. Leiden: Brill, 2010. 139-40. Print.. It appears that at least three occasionally interrelated forces were at work in determining the natures of the planets:
- Empirical observation of what happened around the time of given celestial phenomena, e.g., ‘Mars got bright in the sky and my cattle herd got destroyed.’
- Symbolic associations between the literal appearance of the planet and certain emotions or material things, e.g. Mars appears red, the color of fire, blood, anger, passion, etc.
- Associating the apparent character of a planet with a corresponding deity, e.g., ‘Mars seems to be bad news, sort of like Nergal. Hey, let’s call it Nergal.’
In the centuries since, astrologers have developed and expanded on each of these methods. Empirical observation is now fantastically empowered by astrology software and massive historical databases. Symbolic associations with the appearance and behavior of planets have begun to incorporate the discoveries of modern astronomy. Greek and Roman mythology remain a useful shorthand or archetypal reference for planetary natures. Still, it bothers me that the meanings of the planets rely on such a large degree of symbolic inference, however well established. Are there alternatives? I believe there could be.
The primary quality assigned to a planet is whether or not it is generally good or bad, or benefic and malefic. This has been true since the Seleucid era, and possibly dating back even further to the era of omen-based Babylonian astrology2)Rochberg, Francesca. In the Path of the Moon: Babylonian Celestial Divination and Its Legacy. Leiden: Brill, 2010. 135-42. Print.. I propose that the astrological benefic/malefic designations of the planets could have an astronomical basis. What follows is a theory of how the benefic and malefic qualities of planets can be derived from the mathematical connections between their planetary periodicities, and a consideration of the implications for the natures of outer planets and “dwarf planets”.
Benefics, Malefics and Mercury
Venus and Jupiter are considered to be the lesser and greater benefic planets respectively. Their astrological associations have transmitted to the present through the words “venereal” and “jovial”. Mars and Saturn are considered to be the lesser and greater malefic planets respectively. Their astrological associations have transmitted to the present through the words “martial” and “saturnine”. Mercury is considered to have an ambiguous or duplicitous nature, sometimes benefic, other times malefic. This astrological reputation of Mercury has been passed down through the word “mercurial”. The minor periods of the planets mathematically relate to each other in ways that suggest particular couplings and particular natures of the planets.
Venus’s 8 year period is 2/3rds of Jupiter’s 12 year period, which means that after three Venus periods and two Jupiter periods, the two planets will return to the same location, after 24 years. Venus’s 8 year period does not have as an immediate mathematical relationship to the period of any other planet. Two of Jupiter’s 12 year periods is the earliest time that Venus would match up with the period of another planet. It appears evident then that Venus and Jupiter are part of a pair.
Mars’s 15 year period is half of Saturn’s 30 year period, which means that after two Mars periods and one Saturn period, the two planets will return to roughly the same location. Mars’s 15 year period does not have as an immediate mathematical relationship to the period of any other planet. Saturn’s 30 year period is the earliest time that Mars would match up with the period of another planet. Consequently, it would be natural to assume that Mars and Saturn are part of a pair, just as Venus and Jupiter are part of a pair.
These connections establish why certain planets would be coupled together, but they do not in themselves explain why one pair should be benefic and the other malefic without some degree of inference, so here is mine: Since Jupiter must complete two periods to match up with Venus’s three, one could characterize it as a cooperative relationship, featuring mutual contribution for mutual benefit. This is in agreement with the purported astrological character of these planets as benefics, constructive and beneficial.
In contrast, Mars must complete two periods just to match up with Saturn’s one. One could characterize this relationship as hierarchical or antibiotic, featuring unreciprocated contributions for the benefit of the other. This is in agreement with the purported astrological character of these planets as malefics, destructive and detrimental.
Mercury’s 20 year period matches up with Venus at 40 years, and at 60 years it matches up with Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Mercury’s relationship to all of the planets’ periods evoke its traditionally ambiguous benefic/malefic status.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Rochberg, Francesca. In the Path of the Moon: Babylonian Celestial Divination and Its Legacy. Leiden: Brill, 2010. 139-40. Print.|
|2.||↑||Rochberg, Francesca. In the Path of the Moon: Babylonian Celestial Divination and Its Legacy. Leiden: Brill, 2010. 135-42. Print.|