The importance of the natal chart ruler – the planet that rules your rising sign – is a subject that can be so easily overlooked in astrology. Yet understanding how your chart ruler enables your ascendant’s energies to find an ‘easy route to earth’ is one of those things in birth chart interpretation that adds depth and nuance to any chart reading. However, chart rulerships are the subject of a long-running astrological debate. Do you go traditional or modern?
It’s a question I’ve been thinking about while writing my forthcoming book, the next of the Real Life Astrology series, The Cross of Matter. That book is still a few months away from publication, but as the subject of chart rulers (and by extension the rulers of all your cardinal points and houses too) I thought I would give you a preview of my thoughts on this contested astrological issue.
Prior to the discovery of Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, there wasn’t an issue at all. All of the classical planets – Mercury through to Saturn – rule two signs in traditional astrology. The Sun and Moon rule one each – Leo and Cancer – and this is the reason why. In traditional astrology, the rulerships reflect the polarity of the signs, the masculine and feminine interplay that keeps the universe in balance or, if you prefer, the ‘yin and yang’ approach to keeping things in order.
Astrology loves balance – and the traditional rulership model certainly emphasises that. If you look at the rulership diagram, you’ll notice how it stresses the importance of polarity, as it places the Sun and Moon at the heart of the model. They sit there – like a King and Queen on their thrones – with the remainder of the classical planets gathered around them like courtiers. It’s neat, tidy and perfectly symmetrical, but it does more than simply please some celestial desire for order.
The model enables us to appreciate how our basic human impulses have both extraverted and introverted forms of expression. By connecting the signs in ‘pairs’ in this way – Cancer & Leo (Sun & Moon); Gemini & Virgo (Mercury); Taurus & Libra, (Venus); Aries & Scorpio (Mars); Sagittarius & Pisces (Jupiter) and Capricorn & Aquarius (Saturn), each planet’s energy is given both a masculine and feminine expression according to sign – except the Sun and Moon as they already represent those qualities as a pair.
Signs ruled by the same planet have both similarities and differences in the ways that the energies of the ruling planet are expressed. It is the different polarity – masculine and feminine – that creates those differences. However, your chart ruler is rarely in the sign that it rules. In most cases, the chart ruler will be found in a different sign to your ascendant – and this affects the way in which the energies of the ascendant find that easy route to earth. And this is where it gets complicated.
The ruler of your natal chart – the ascendant ruler – is located in its own sign, and that sign shows how that ruling planet’s energy is expressed. However, that ruling planet also acts as a conduit for the energies of your rising sign. Your ascendant has a particular form of energy according to its sign, but it will also influence how its ruling planet’s expression is played out; a drop or two of a different ‘flavour’ will be added to the way you express your chart ruler’s characteristic behaviours.
Let’s look at Mars as an example of what I mean by this. In traditional astrology Mars rules both Aries and Scorpio, so if you have either of these as rising signs Mars is your traditional chart ruler. Mars is the impulse that governs our ability to be assertive and direct – in other words, it enables us to ‘go for it’.
When Mars rules your ascendant, Mars is elevated in your chart (regardless of its sign and house) because it is your chart ruler. Even if Mars is found in a ‘feminine’ sign in your natal chart (remember we are not talking about ‘Mars in Aries’ here but Mars as the ruler of an Aries ascendant) then it’s expression will be ‘punchier’ than you would normally expect for Mars in a feminine sign because of the Aries’s ascending sign’s masculine influence on its expression.
So, what if you have Scorpio rising? In traditional astrology, Mars also rules Scorpio. Mars’s expression here, ruling a feminine rising sign, is more repressed. Mars’s traits like assertion, aggression and anger are expressed less directly. If Mars is channeling Scorpio rising’s energies through another ‘feminine’ sign, then that person’s Mars traits will remain ‘softened’ because of the feminine influences that Mars is channelling.
However, if Scorpio rising’s ruling Mars is found in a masculine sign? That Mars energy may still not appear to be as ‘punchy’ as you would expect it to be. I want to stress that Mars will be no less effective, but in this particular example it would give you a much more internalised and focused drive rather than the fiery, openly combative energy you usually associate with this planet.
That principle applies to all of the planets (except the Sun and Moon because they form a masculine/feminine pair on their own) as they all have rulership of two signs in the traditional model. When Mercury rules a chart with Gemini rising, the outward, communicative energies associated with ‘masculine/air Mercury’ are emphasised. When it rules a chart with Virgo rising, the introspective, practical, inwardly-connected ‘feminine/earth Mercury’ traits dominate.
We can make the same observation with Venus, with Taurus rising lending this planet a material, value-driven ‘feminine/earth Venus’ focus and with Libra we observe ‘masculine/air Venus’ with an emphasis on relational and aesthetic concerns. And what about Jupiter and Saturn?
The same principle applies. Jupiter ruling a chart with Sagittarius rising is demonstrably a ‘masculine/fire’ Jupiter with a focus on outward expansion. Jupiter ruling a chart with Pisces rising has a ‘feminine/water’ style of Jupiter where expansion is internalised in a spiritual or imaginative manner.
Take a breather for a moment to digest all of that. What I’ve set out is the basic principle of how traditional rulerships work. So, what about the ‘modern’ rulers? If you prefer to use the modern rulers (Uranus/Aquarius, Neptune/Pisces and Pluto/Scorpio) the first thing you notice is that it interrupts that traditional ‘yin and yang’ model of interpretation.
The modern approach to rulerships has a different rationale. There’s a thing we talk about in astrology and it’s affinity. It’s a word with a simple meaning, ‘to have something in common with’. So the ‘new’ planets were allocated to the signs that it was felt they had something in common with.
For example, has progressive, rebellious Aquarius more in common with the future-oriented energies of Uranus than the serious, structured limitations of Saturn? Similarly, does spaced out Neptune have a natural affinity with dreamy Pisces, and the dark lord Pluto with deep, impenetrable Scorpio? Looked at it this way, the obvious answer may seem to be “yes”, but before you dismiss the ancient rulers I think you need to remember how they work in practice.
If we look again at that Capricorn/Saturn/Aquarius ‘love triangle’, it seems fairly obvious that Saturn has an affinity with Capricorn. No astrologer is going to argue with you on that one. However, Saturn’s relationship with Aquarius is no less valid when you appreciate how important polarity is to how a planet expresses its energies by sign.
Both Capricorn and Aquarius are fairly inflexible – Aquarius is a stubborn fixed sign and cardinal, earthy Capricorn that prefers to be in control. The major difference between how the traditional ruler – Saturn – works with both signs is that, in the case of Capricorn, energies are directed inwards towards personal ambitions. With Aquarius, that same stubborn determination is directed outwards into social, societal or intellectual and idealistic concerns. It’s a demonstration of that old ‘yin and yang’ thing we met earlier.
So, do you prefer the elegance of the ancient model? Many astrologers do – especially when they work with natal charts – and I appreciate why. The traditional planets are the visible planets, and when we are considering the ascendant with its emphasis on connecting you with tangible, material reality, then it may seem more obvious to refer to the rulers that have a connection to things that can be seen, felt and lived, rather than attempting to connect with the more transpersonal qualities of the outer planets.
That’s not to say that those of you with rising signs that have a ‘modern ruler’ will not feel a connection to that planet. It’s more than likely that most of you will recognise the special place a ‘modern ruler’ has in your life. It’s that affinity thing again. And many astrologers are very comfortable with that too. However, there is one more thing that I often think is the astrological ‘elephant in the room’ as far as modern rulerships are concerned. Why are there only three of them?
The solar system contains a great number of small planets and asteroids – more than enough to allocate a ruler to each sign. In fact, there are astrological schools of thought that would like to see the small planet Ceres as the ruler of Taurus and the dwarf planet Chiron as the ruler of Virgo – given that they too have affinities with those signs. If you’re going down the affinities route, the obvious question seems to be, why not go the whole way?
It’s an astrological debate that seems set to run, but for now, my position would be to look at the traditional ruler first – and then look at the potential influence of any modern ruler if applicable. They are not necessarily mutually exclusive positions. Regardless of your preferred approach to rulerships, the key thing to remember is as follows. The chart ruler is important because it shows how you connect to reality. Things associated with your rising sign and its ruling planet often manifest with great immediacy in your life – so pay attention to your chart ruler – it’s there for a reason.
© Sara Shipman 2022