Heavenly hierarchies and why I object to rulerships

Every now and then, I pause to consider why we believe what we do. Today is one such day.

As humans, we like to make order out of chaos, because, I suspect, we would go crazy within the rat mazes of our thoughts if we did not.
And so we developed, thanks to neurological wiring and some compelling logic the brain listens to, the concept of hierarchies. We make hierarchies out of almost everything, including the heavens.

We are aided in this need to create order out of chaos by those planets willing to cooperate in our scheme, because, until you reach Uranus, where everything goes out of whack, the planets followed a systematic order of importance.

Mercury, vastly underrated and smallest in size of those planets visible to the unaided eye, never seemed terribly significant, whereas Jupiter, the largest planet, assumed outsized proportions in the native’s chart.

The entire principle upon which astrological study is founded (“as above, so below”) is based on the perception of hierarchy—’above’ exists in relationship to ‘below’; although neither can exist without the other, ‘above’ has almost always had a more positive connotation, since most things that are bad, depressing, or yucky are located ‘below.’

Think of worms, Hades, and everything you find in dirt, and you get the idea. Anything located ‘above’ on humans—the head, the mind, the brain—represents the intellect, and is therefore superior to base instinct (or that which is located ‘below’—the body, which was long ago dissociated from the head, and made inferior).

We also have “major” and “minor” planets; we refer to the signs being “ruled” by a planet, and we have “Lords” and “dignities”. In other words, we rely on metaphors that privilege monarchy, kings, queens, and something being inherently better than something else.

Unfortunately for astrology, and for those who practice astrology, monarchy and the concept of rulership as a political structure is pretty much dead, brought to an end by various revolutions in an attempt to level the playing field so as to make the world somewhat less elitist. So why did astrology get left behind? Why do we still rely so heavily on hierarchy and hierarchical metaphors to explain concepts in the astrological chart?

The real problem with hierarchy as a metaphor for astrology, as I see it, is that we live within a culture that values egalitarian ideals. This doesn’t mean that it lives up to those ideals, necessarily, but that we live one way, yet use an antiquated rhetoric to explain chart dynamics.

So if I say your chart ruler is Jupiter, you, as an astrologer, will know what I’m saying; we all know what the “ruler” of the chart “means.” Yet we do not stop to ask ourselves, what outdated political and moral structure is reified every time we use this terminology, and why should I care?

There was a time when we lived under someone’s rulership, but that time is long gone, except for astrologers

The answer depends on how comfortable you are using a language that is not, technically, your own. Think about it. You inherited this language. Most people use the language the way they do because they really haven’t thought about the repercussions of its vocabulary.

People don’t realise they have a choice. However, you always have a choice, but you will be forced to come up with new words, and most people are really not interested in doing that. For example, instead of using the word “ruler”, an elitist word if ever there was one, I prefer “influence.”

So, you can say that Venus has the strongest influence on the chart because it is the sign on the Ascendent at birth. Interestingly, the word ‘influence’ does not carry the same emotive power that ‘ruler’ does; it’s a more politically-neutral word, and therefore carries a different connotation.

Because words like ‘ruler’ are inherently elitist, due to their automatic connotative references, they are also separatist, implying that something or someone is less than, something greater than.


Click on the picture to read about dual rulerships, which further complicate the desire to simplify astrology
Click on the picture to read about dual rulerships, which further complicate the desire to simplify astrology


The fundamental problem I have with this lies in the moral certainty than we assume when we use this kind of language. A value judgement is made every time you use a word that presupposes the superiority of something or someone. The question is, what is it that’s being privileged?

To be ruled implies that something is being dominated, controlled, and possibly oppressed. Even the most benign rulers could determine one’s fate, so perhaps that’s what we’re saying: a ruler of a chart controls one’s fate.

Unfortunately, that thought opens up a Pandora’s Box of questions about free will, determinism, and destiny. However, if we continue to use terminology reminiscent of an era when the common person was subjugated to the will of his king, emperor, or pharaoh, do not be surprised if you feel like your free will isn’t working very well.

Free will needs to be put into practice; without it, yes, supernal gods will reign supreme once more, and before you can click your ruby red slippers and intone ‘there’s no place like home,’ you will find your free will has vanished amongst the shadows and dust gathering in the corners of your mind.

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