By now, I’ve written thirteen articles on astrology. The first one was mainly about the twelve signs as a whole. That was when I talked about elements and qualities, as well as opposing signs (or “polarity pairs,” as I like to call them). Then I wrote one for each of the signs, covering how it relates to its ruling planet, natural astrological house, element, and quality, among other things. It was a little bit sad to end the sign series a couple weeks ago, but I’ve gotten over it, and it’s time to move on. So, in honor of moving on, we’re going to plunge into Part 2 of astrology basics. We’re going to go over the planets.

The signs are the “how,” or the way in which something is done. That something can be done in the Sagittarius way (adventurous), the Taurus way (relaxed), or the Cancer way (nurturing). Or any of the other ways of the signs. Planets are the “what” that is going on. Exactly what is adventurous, relaxed, or nurturing? If it’s Venus, it’s the way you give love or affection. If it’s Pluto, then it’s the way you exert power along with the rest of your generation (but we’ll get to that later). If it’s Jupiter, then it’s how you express joy, and where you go too far. You’re probably thinking that I could’ve started with the planets and left the signs for later. I went in the opposite direction because, generally, people are more familiar with the signs’ traits than they are with those of planets. However, I wanted to give you a slightly deeper understanding of the signs before you go into less familiar territory.

Somewhat like the signs, planets have certain features that make it a little easier to get how they work. Those features are:

  • Designations
  • The planets’ speeds
  • Easy and difficult placements
  • Retrogrades

Designations

Astrologers have given some planets special names in order to easily describe their general nature or categorize them based on similar effects. The Sun and Moon are called “luminaries” for the simple reason that they are not technically planets, although they still affect a person’s personality in significant ways. The other two sets of planets are called “benefics” and “malefics.” As the names suggest, some planets are more beneficial in nature, and others are… not so beneficial. When the benefics—Venus and Jupiter—are involved, those features of the chart will usually be more fortunate. On the other hand, when it comes to malefics—Mars, Saturn, and Pluto—their parts of the chart can have some trouble. The Sun, the Moon, Mercury, Uranus, and Neptune are pretty much neutral. You’ll see the reason behind all this in the next ten articles, where I’ll talk about each planet in more detail.

The Planets’ Rates of Speed

Each planet goes at a different pace than the others. The Moon is the fastest, moving at 2.5 days per sign, while Pluto is the slowest, taking 13-30 years to move through a sign. Because of Mercury’s rate of speed relative to the sun, no person of a given sun sign can have Mercury more than one sign before or after that of their sun. So, for instance, if your sun is in Pisces, the only possible signs your Mercury can be in is Aquarius, Pisces, and Aries. Likewise, Venus can be no more than two signs before or after your sun sign. So everyone born while the sun is in Pisces can only have Venus in Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces, Aries, or Taurus.

Nonetheless, there’s no need to be bummed out if you’re a Pisces and wanted a Taurus Mercury or a Cancer Venus. Aspects—which we’ll get into a lot later—can give Mercury and Venus those traits if your Mercury is “conjunct” or “sextile” Venus, or if Venus makes any aspect to your Moon. Not all hope is lost.

Since Jupiter and Saturn take a little longer to move through a sign, you likely share the same Jupiter and/or Saturn signs as some of your peers or friends. And since Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto are slowpokes, your generation will have two or all three of these planets in the same signs. For example, if you were born between 1988 and 1995, you most likely have Uranus in Capricorn, Neptune in Capricorn, and Pluto in Scorpio. These placements give nearly everyone currently between ages 21 and 28 common characteristics that we all share as a group.

“Easy” and “Difficult” Placements

When it comes to planets, not all signs are equal. Any planet can be in any of the twelve signs; however, it won’t express the same amount of its natural energy in every sign. And among those twelve possibilities, there are two signs in which a planet can show off, and two placements where it’s more or less in jail.

  • Dignity: a planet is in dignity when it’s located in the sign it rules (i.e. Mars in Aries, the Moon in Cancer, or the Sun in Leo). When a planet is in dignity, it’s allowed to assert all of its energies to the fullest.
  • Exaltation: a planet’s sign of exaltation helps it express its positive energies while, as much as possible, minimizing or soothing its more troubling ones.
  • Detriment: a planet is in detriment when it’s located in the sign opposite the one which it rules (i.e. Mars in Libra, the Moon in Capricorn, or the Sun in Aquarius). When a planet is in detriment, its natural energies are put under lock and key. Instead, it follows its script in a language it doesn’t understand.
  • Fall: a planet’s sign of fall is the sign opposite its sign of exaltation. In this sign, the planet strongly expresses its negative side while the more positive side of its nature is stifled.

There is a common misnomer that planets in detriment or fall are a disaster to have. But this doesn’t have to be the case. Any planet can be a blessing no matter what sign it’s in. It all depends on which of that planet’s traits you choose to express. Likewise, dignity - and exaltation-placed planets can be a curse, too. Imagine dealing with the extreme mood swings of Moon in Cancer, or the hair-trigger temper of Mars in Aries. Yikes! Remember, your natal chart is a guide to show less obvious parts of your personality and potential. You still have free will, and you can always choose what to do with the energies you were given, for better or worse.

Retrogrades

Sometimes a planet will stay in a sign for a longer period of time than usual. This happens due to a little phenomenon called a retrograde. “Retrograde” simply means “to go backward.” When a planet goes retrograde, it means it appears to be moving backwards from our point of view here on Earth. When a planet goes retrograde, it first “stations,” or stands still for a period of time. It then proceeds to go in reverse motion, and things associated with that planet tend to unravel or go haywire. For instance, with Mercury—the most frequent and well-known retrograde—there will be all kinds of malfunctions in transportation and electronics. Written and verbal communication becomes unclear. Contracts are misunderstood and have to be revisited later. If you were born during a planet’s retrograde, it means the planet’s energies are expressed inward rather than outward. You’ll have a harder time using them in a way that’s more visible and direct.

So what’s done is done. Now that you’ve read a bit on general features of planets, you can go on to reading about each planet individually. So keep your seat belt on—or take it off, if that’s more your style. Next week, we’re starting off with the most important one.

Next Article: “The Sun: Your Chart’s Biggest Star”