The terms “rulership”, “detriment”, “exaltation”, and “fall” are given to the planets when they occupy certain signs of the zodiac. This system of categorizing planets according to the signs where they are comfortable and the signs where they are less than comfortable has been around probably since astrology began.
The signs of rulership, detriment, fall, and exaltation
Every planet rules a sign. Mercury rules two signs, Gemini and Virgo. Venus also rules two signs, Taurus and Libra. Each of the other planets rules a single sign. Every planet rules the sign with which it has the most in common, the sign whose meaning coincides with the meaning of the planet. For instance, Mars rules Aries because both Mars and Aries embody self-assertion, commanding, pioneering, exertion, and self-motivation.
A planet is to its detriment when it occupies the sign opposite the one it rules. Thus, Mars is to its detriment in the sign directly opposite Aries, which is Libra. Mars is self-oriented, and Libra is other-oriented. Mars commands while Libra tries to accommodate. Mars in Libra, the sign ruled by its polar opposite, Venus, is, therefore, said not to be well placed. It is the warrior god placed in the sign of peace and harmony.
A planet is exalted in a sign where it operates comfortably or efficiently. These assignments, probably done quite arbitrarily in ancient times, nevertheless seem to ‘work’. Mars is exalted in Capricorn because Capricorn manifests Mars energy in a practical, grounded, industrious, common-sense manner.
Planets are in their fall in the sign opposite the one where they are exalted. Thus, Mars is in its fall in Cancer, where actions are often based upon feelings and emotions.
The Sun rules Leo, a sign of self-hood, the sign of the king or ruler. It is to its detriment in Aquarius, the sign of community, the sign of the commoner. The Sun is exalted in Aries, another completely self-oriented sign, another fire sign, and a sign which like the Sun, loves to take command. The Sun is in its fall in Libra because you have the planet which most represents the individual ego in the sign of cooperation and partnership.
Another way of looking at the question of rulership, detriment, exaltation, and fall regarding the Sun is to observe that in the northern hemisphere (where astrology was born and developed) the Sun enters Aries at the vernal equinox. This is the first day of Spring, and Aries quite literally means a springing into life. The Sun rapidly begins to rise ever higher in the sky during the onset of Spring. Thus its exaltation in Aries. At the autumnal equinox, when the Sun enters Libra, the Sun begins rapidly to fall lower and lower in the sky. Thus it’s fall in Libra, and this is where the word ‘fall’, used to describe the season of autumn, comes from.
The Moon rules Cancer, because, like Cancer, it embodies a feeling, nurturing, the mother archetype, family. It is to its detriment in Capricorn, which embodies emotional control, stoicism, the father archetype, business. The Moon is exalted in Taurus because in this sign the emotions and feeling centers are grounded and steady. The Moon is in its fall in Scorpio, where feelings are greatly intensified and potentially explosive.
Mercury rules Gemini, as both relate to thinking and communicating. Mercury is to its detriment in Sagittarius, where thinking often disregards facts and details. Sagittarius sees the big picture – the mind wanders and travels far and wide. Mercury, the winged messenger of the gods, hops about from place to place, making very short journeys. Mercury also rules Virgo, where thinking becomes very analytical. The other sign of its detriment, then, is Pisces, where the planet of the left brain, logical thinking is in the sign of right-brain psychic sensitivity. Mercury is exalted in Aquarius, where thinking becomes innovative, and it is in its fall in Leo, where, as in Sagittarius, details are of little concern.
Venus rules Taurus, a sign of beauty and sensuality, and where its love is steady and faithful. It is to its detriment in Scorpio, which renders the love nature intense, passionate, and often jealous and possessive. Venus also rules Libra, another sign which worships beauty, and the sign of relating. It is to its detriment in Aries because Venus is about relating and Aries is about self. You have the goddess of love in the sign of the god of war. Venus is exalted in Pisces, whose ruler, Neptune, is said to be the higher octave of Venus. The love of nature is universalized when Venus is in Pisces. Venus in Pisces people seems to find something in everyone that they can love. Venus is in its fall in Virgo, where the love nature is rendered picky and critical.
Jupiter rules Sagittarius because both planet and sign embody expansion, roaming, metaphysics and philosophy, and truth-seeking. It is the great wanderer of the zodiac, and Gemini’s short-hop journeys hem Jupiter in, so it is to its detriment in Gemini. Jupiter is exalted in Cancer, whose nurturing and mothering traits are expanded under Jupiter’s influence. Jupiter rules growth and Cancer embodies unlimited growth. It is in its fall in Capricorn, the sign of self-discipline and control. This is too small a box for Jupiter to fit into. The last thing Jupiter needs is to be controlled.
Saturn rules Capricorn because both sign and planet relate to worldliness, stoicism, discipline, control, outer world achievement, fatherhood. It is to its detriment in Cancer, the sign of family and mother, a sign which is private and personal and emotional, anything but stoic. Saturn is exalted in Libra, where it seeks to create balanced structures and balanced judgment. In Aries, where it is in its fall, it stifles the fiery nature of the sign.
The planets beyond Saturn
Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto do not have signs of exaltation, detriment, and fall, although some astrologers have mistakenly tried to assign them to those categories. These planets are trans-personal. They do not relate to specific, individual personality characteristics. They are in particular signs for long periods – it takes Uranus seven years to move through a single sign, Neptune fourteen years, and Pluto, because of its elliptical orbit, anywhere from twelve to twenty-nine years. These planets could be said to mark the collective personality expression of whole generations, but because they have nothing to do with personal personality traits assigning them signs of detriment, exaltation and fall simply don’t work.
Don’t feel bad about planets you have to their detriment or fall
Most of us will have one or more planets in signs of their detriment and fall. Here it is fitting to offer my belief that nothing in astrology is either good or bad, it just is. Edgar Cayce’s Mercury was to its detriment in Pisces, but it was his Mercury in Pisces that allowed him to communicate messages (Mercury) from the beyond, from the astral realms (Pisces/Neptune). Einstein’s Venus was to its detriment in Aries; his Saturn in its fall in Aries. He did alright.
Every planet, no matter if it is in a sign of its detriment or fall, still has special qualities that can be accessed by the native who has that particular planetary placement. Venus in Aries, for example, is great atbreaking the ice’ and initiating relationships. Venus in Virgo upholds high standards for relationships. The Sun, in its fall in Libra, produces magnificent fighters for justice, like Gandhi. Love everything about your birth chart. It is your blueprint for self-realization and self-fulfillment. It is perfect for you.