The Symbolism of Exalted and Fallen Planets
There is an important principle in horoscopic astrology which states that planets are Exalted or in their Fall in certain specific signs of the zodiac. The premise is, on the surface at least, relatively simple: Planets thrive in their Exaltation signs and struggle to be their best selves when in the sign of their Fall, or debilitation.
This principle is yet another key concept held in common by Western and Vedic astrology. Both approaches would agree on the following tabulation:
Planet Exaltation Fall
Sun Aries Libra
Moon Taurus Scorpio
Mars Capricorn Cancer
Mercury Virgo Pisces
Jupiter Cancer Capricorn
Venus Pisces Virgo
Saturn Libra Aries
In practice, however, Western astrologers typically employ the Tropical Zodiac whereas Vedic astrologers tend to use a Sidereal Zodiac, and this often results in very different outcomes in specific cases. In my experience, using the Sidereal Zodiac has made this principle come alive in a way that I find less consistent using the Tropical Zodiac. I know this is a bit heterodox, but I’m hoping it doesn’t matter too much.
Because what I want to explore and discuss here is the notion that there’s a story, or we might say, there are teachings about life and the way things work embedded in this astrological scheme, regardless of this technical conundrum. The ‘teachings’ that are implicit in these special planetary placements illumine the nature of both the planet and sign involved. There is apparently nothing arbitrary about the designations and the better you understand planetary and zodiacal symbolism, the more obvious this will be. The question of which is the correct zodiac to use is therefore of secondary importance. I want to reflect here on the symbolism, which transcends the zodiac problem, albeit that I will use cherry-picked examples that illustrate a theme or idea using the Sidereal Zodiac.
The Great and Glorious Sun, preeminent among the Planets, is associated with will, power and self-assertion, as well as the idea of individual identity. In Jyotish terminology, the Sun is known as the Atma Karaka or Self Significator. So, it is hardly surprising that the Sun is Exalted, no less, in the very first sign of the zodiac: Aries! The Sun is the “head honcho,” you might say. The Boss. Aries is first, and forward and waits for no external authority before acting. It all centres around the Sun, and Aries.
This same bossy Sun “falls” in the sign Libra and encounters a quandary of sorts here: how do you be a boss, how do you hold your own, how do you maintain your autonomy and your inner autocratic instincts, in a partnership?
Sun in Libra is always looking for the perfect “wing man,” someone who can perfectly complement them. Maybe this is because they’re sort of insecure. They would like to believe they are by nature cooperative and democratic; but deep down they want to be the the leader. What now?
Any repressed or reluctantly surrendered personal power and autonomy must at some stage find release or “venting,” and this may manifest as inter-personal conflicts and an exaggerated domination impulse. Ironically, Sun in Libra’s secret vice is a bullying streak (or otherwise, a persecution complex in which they are the one feeling bullied and dominated). Sun in Aries could also be fairly and reasonably accused of domination of others, or bullying in more extreme cases (like Hitler and Saddam Hussein); but being less repressed and totally direct and open about it, Sun in Aries typically does a better job of claiming, holding and owning their individual power and authority, without too much needless entanglement in ill advised compromises and alliances.
Many people with Sun in Sidereal Libra have strong leadership instincts, and many of them succeed and render important and valuable service through their leadership. But there is typically some contentiousness involved, and those with Sun in Libra are more defined and circumscribed than Sun in Aries by the “wing men” and partners they’re so prone to getting saddled with (like Hillary Clinton and Bill Gates, for example).
More often than not, Sun in Libra needs to remember that they may not really need a wing man, and especially not when such a partnership involves an excessive deference of authority and power to the other person, thereby sacrificing the person’s own true will and intentions. This is the danger.
The Sun’s Exaltation and Debilitation in the Aries-Libra axis relates to the most basic level at which self encounters other. It has been said that, “if you can’t beat them, join them,” and whether this is sage advice or not, this old adage addresses the existential dilemma that Sun in the Aries-Libra axis describes- are you the sovereign ruler of your own kingdom? If you are you will beat them when necessary, and join them when expedient. But if you aren’t in charge you will buckle, bend and submit your authority just when you need to hold onto it firmly, and perchance also abruptly attempt to reclaim your power in an untimely fashion from those to whom you prematurely surrendered it.
The Sun is singular. There can be only One.
The Moon, the archetypal mother, is Exalted in the rich and fecund sign Taurus. The function of mother, and indeed a womb, is to “hold space.” To provide a secure container for the incubation and nourishment of life. Taurus is without a doubt the most “moist” of the earth signs, and also the most fertile and stable. If you wish to nurture, be consistent and reliable and not scatter your energy and attention, this is the simple message and teaching–whether or not you have Moon in Taurus in your birth chart.
Scorpionic catharsis, crisis, anger and intensity “poisons the waters.” Emotions and attitudes tend to harden with Moon in Sidereal Scorpio (e.g., Donald Trump) and may ultimately blunt the person’s capacity for responsive empathy.
If the Sun is singular then the Moon is binary, perceptive and responsive.
There’s a deeper and subtler dimension to this symbolism. The Moon at a very basic level represents perception andawareness, which is the most basic faculty of sentience. Jyotish says the Moon is the mind, or manas, which is to be distinguished from buddhi, or discrimination, which is associated with Mercury. It is very useful to have this finer distinction made between different aspects of what we may loosely call “mind.”
The state of the Moon in a chart is so hugely important precisely because it represents, not only our past and our “emotional nature,” but also our most basic and persistent mental habits and inclinations. It represents the general state of our awareness and consciousness and our capacity for clear perception.
An exalted Moon gives lucidity and stability also to the mind and perceptive faculties, the way a still body of water reflects clearly a mirror image of the sky. It also implies memory (bank) and the capacity to absorb and hold impressions in a clear and stable way.
A debilitated Moon in Scorpio may indeed manifest as an intense acuity of some kind in the person’s basic mental and emotional faculties and functions (e.g., Albert Einstein), but also a greater liability, than with Moon in Taurus, to stormy, angry and hurtful emotions and mental attitudes (e.g., Vincent van Gogh and, again, Donald Trump).
We can gain some insights from contemplating this theme that can shed light on other, more general factors affecting and influencing the Moon in a horoscope, and it arguably gives a template to guide an errant Moon back home to its ideal stable and nurturing state.
Mars, the Cosmic Warrior, the planet of self-assertion and dynamism, is Exalted in a sign which is curiously renowned for its carefulness and constructiveness: Capricorn. We are being guided here to understand the proper purpose of, and the ideal means of making effective use of, our innate Martian fire and fierceness.
The most legitimate arena for the competitiveness of Mars is in the realm of professional and political goals. Although this requires more restraint than is natural to tempestuous and impatient Mars, the fruit of this discipline and practicality leads to real power and real victory. Your worldly productivity (Capricorn) is the ultimate measure of your heroism and personal triumph (Mars) on the stage of life.
Those who love lesser battles tend to dissipate their energy and their time; all the while the wiser warrior gets richer and richer. Elon Musk has Mars in Sidereal Capricorn and he certainly can’t be accused of indolence. He has become a “king” of, or rather through, productivity.
Again, you don’t need to have Mars in Sidereal Capricorn to take the broader hint here. You may have a less exalted Mars, and yet if you want to set it straight if its not behaving (as is its wont); train it to aim to be like Mars in Capricorn. Definitely don’t do a “Mars in Cancer” with it, whether or not you have Mars in Cancer…
Because with Warlords, even if they were to try their very best to nurture the babies in the nursery, there would be mishaps. With all the blades and flames and fury flying about someone in this family is going to get hurt. Cuddles and caring, and domesticity generally are wonderful things in themselves; but good warriors have no business baking bread at home. They’ll end up fighting in the kitchen when the real war is being lost on the town square.
When your inner Warrior is wearing an apron and angry about what happened in the kitchen, rather than in the competitive realm of public and outdoor life, the wounds inflicted by his spear cause tragic and lamentable suffering to the innocent. There is loss on every front.
With Mars in Cancer the impetuousity of Mars is emotionally coloured and charged, and unruly feelings are often internalized. Repressed emotional anger has a way of eventually erupting, whether through bitter clashes with others (in particular with family) or through abrupt and tragic events (which may be viewed as a sudden precipitation of the energy in an emotional storm cloud).
Out there in the fray, where Mars belongs, nobody is your mommy. You need to man up and grow a thicker skin, and “a pair,” as it were. Your professional competitors are waiting for and deserve to feel the sting of your impressive prowess, skill and productivity. Keep your moods and feelings out of it. Mars does better as a doer than a feeler.
When Mars in Cancer “gets” it, and focuses on getting the job done without any emotionally induced self-sabotage, it can be formidably and passionately determined.
Although a planet in the sign of its fall may have to contend with certain disadvantageous habits and impulses, if and when it manages to integrate the virtues of the opposite sign, in which the planet is exalted, it may come to resemble the exalted placement. It is also true that when a given planet is exalted in a chart, but fails to live up to its possibilities, it will be due to the underlying weaknesses of the fallen sign placement of the given planet.
As a friend once eloquently put it, “the axis gives access.”
Mercury is somewhat unique in the fact that it is exalted in a sign over which it also rules. This is not the case with any of the other planets. Mercury is lord or ruler of both Gemini and Virgo, and no doubt is powerfully placed in both of those signs on that account; but in Virgo Mercury is also Exalted. Mercury is thus in a sense doubly empowered in the sign Virgo.
We should understand that Mercury’s intelligence is not something purely academic. Mercury has a certain utilitarian bent also, and Mercury’s exaltation in Virgo highlights this. He, or we should probably say “they” (Mercury’s pronoun should, strictly speaking, be gender neutral) is famously known as a patron of thieves and merchants.
Mercury is amoral. Mercury’s cleverness and eloquence is an invaluable servant, whoever happens to be the master. Mercury is neither benefic nor malefic, but adapts to and serves his/her/their master’s edicts and intentions; and so Mercury thrives in Virgo, which represents the cold, clinical efficiency required to scrub every facet and detail of a matter. To get right into the nitty-gritty and granular particulars for the benefit of whatever the master decrees. Mercury shouldn’t be doing its own thing.
Meticulous Mercury “falls” in the dreamy and all-encompassing sign Pisces: it’s like trying to squeeze the whole of the universe through the eye of a needle. Where do you even start pointing the needle’s eye? The strict accuracy of details, and the particular correctness of words and works, are easily compromised under these circumstances.
The theme of lying or being lied to, or the failure to speak and express one’s thoughts effectively, may manifest. Victim mentality, and the complaining and accusing habit that tends to come with it, is a sure way to become less truly astute.
Emotions, moods and fantasies may cloud and distract the mind and distort perception and discrimination. And yet even so it would be unfair to suggest that nothing of value can come from Mercury expressed through Pisces. Many remarkably intuitive minds that apprehend and articulate deep and abstract ideas have Mercury in Sidereal Pisces; Albert Einstein is a fine example.
It could be argued that Einstein exemplified, to some extent at least, the potential reconciliation of the challenges and opportunities presented for Mercury in the Virgo-Pisces axis. Einstein learned to get his Pisces Mercury to master what Mercury in Virgo represents: a precise mathematical language and method. The result is “e=mc2” (whatever that means).
Leonard Cohen with his Exalted Sidereal Mercury in Virgo in the 1st House knew how to turn a phrase, and he could play a guitar, and one might say that the clinical efficiency of his Mercury was placed at the service of Pisces through his hauntingly evocative music and poetic artistry.
An exalted planet, at its highest, embodies not only its own natural virtues, but also those virtues inherent in the planet’s fallen location. The signs opposite each other on the zodiac wheel are opposite sides of the same coin. The picture becomes clearer and fuller when you think in terms of an axis, rather than a single sign.
Jupiter, literally Guru in Jyotish terms, is Exalted in the mothering and compassionate sign, Cancer. Compassion is ever the hallmark of saints and sages. The fruit of wisdom is mercy: “To know all is to forgive all.”
But this generous, compassionate and caring quality inherent in Jupiter, and which is highlighted in its exaltation in the sign Cancer, is not the mere primal impulse to protect inherent in every creature. It is the product of a comprehensive insight and an understanding of life based on experience. And so we find that we’re being told here that the most refined wisdom and discernment manifests as motherly caring for all that lives. Like Jesus, you might say. An almost indiscriminate benevolence towards all sentient life.
When Jupiter is exceptionally strong in a Vedic astrology chart, due to being both angular and exalted, it results in something called Hamsa Yoga. ‘Hamsa’ means swan, or goose. It is purported that the goose can distinguish between milk and water, implying a capacity to recognize true valuable essence. “Hamsha” or “Hansa” is in fact a title sometimes given to sages in India, such as the well known Paramahansa Yogananda, author of Autobiography of a Yogi.
There’s a certain providence and grace that follows those who are kind, and those who shelter and help others to grow until they’re strong enough to leave the nest. The Cosmic Mother is Bountiful.
But when altruistic Jupiter is located in the stern sign Capricorn, it trims the fat and the compassion and the generosity of this most benevolent of planets. The person may lack the discernment to recognize what truly matters, and fail to meet their moral obligations to sentient beings, perhaps through being distracted by avaricious material interests.
Capricorn’s lust for conquest of the material world and its insistence on functional productivity and achievement can be rather unmerciful. Politics and Virtue, we consistently find, rarely flourish together. While not wishing to insinuate anything in particular about his politics or virtue, Barack Obama is one example of a person with Jupiter in Sidereal Capricorn who has walked that line.
And even so, it is true that you will find many socially industrious persons with Jupiter in Sidereal Capricorn (e.g., Helena Blavatsky, Barack Obama), and they may do a lot of good through their socially motivated productive industry. Jupiter’s inherently positive nature results in it doing a lot of good even where it’s not under ideal circumstances.
When you marry, integrate and reconcile the industriousness and practical worldly ambition of Jupiter in Capricorn with the intuitive and compassionate wisdom of Jupiter in Cancer, not only the family but the whole town thrives. Social projects are born which uplift and inspire the community and invigorate cultural institutions.
It would not be unfair to point out that if Jupiter in Cancer were to fall from grace, it would be because its underbelly is Jupiter in Capricorn; it shares some of the weaknesses of that placement. For example, Jupiter in Cancer may through material good fortune and the personal power it provides, or social advantage, be lured into a separative pride and contentment that can eclipse that inner sensitivity that guides pure souls to judge matters correctly. Jesus offered some parables on this topic, like in the story of the Good Samaritan: the rich and proper and fancy people were not hearkening to the cry of their inner mother when they passed that poor sod lying helpless in street. Without this caring instinct, true virtue is absent.
“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”
Love is blind, they say, and lo and behold, Venus is Exalted in Pisces. As the very last and final sign of the zodiac, Pisces is a bit of a blur, it’s the great cosmic soup, nothing is very specific. Venus is exalted here precisely because Pisces can so totally surrender to the bliss of non-separateness and non-differentiation.
This intuitive capacity to merge with something, to come into harmony and integration with it, gives Venus (especially in Pisces) aesthetic sensibilities. This makes Venus an artist and poet and, under certain circumstances, Venus in Sidereal Pisces will be the physical epitome of beauty. In some cases it will surround the person with the very finest of everything. Elizabeth Taylor wore it well.
Venus in Virgo tries to do it correctly, and so fumbles with trifling boudoir technicalities and minutiae: it’s trying so hard to be nice and helpful that its struggling to relax and go with the flow and read the body, aura and soul of the beloved.
Venus in Virgo is perfectly sweet and all, because Venus is sweet and nice wherever she (her pronouns are definitely She/Her) may be radiating her Beauty. Loving service and helpfulness are indeed virtues of Venus in Virgo; but it has to be noted that there is some tendency towards sexual impropriety or some struggle in achieving romantic fulfilment in this arrangement.
Bill Clinton’s story is an example of the “love of the servant” or “love of the co-worker” narrative that one finds with Venus in Sidereal Virgo. Oscar Wilde found his sexuality problematic in the times and climes in which he lived. David Cameron with his Venus in Sidereal Virgo has, rightly or wrongly, been associated with improper behaviour (as a lad, involving a pig, on a school outing to a farm). Prince Charles of Wales, with his Venus in Sidereal Virgo found matrimony fraught with incompatibility and drama.
One finds in practice that the natives of Venus in Pisces and Venus in Virgo are not always so easy to tell apart. Venus is Pisces is not “virginal” by any means, and Venus in Virgo is, in its own way, trying to learn to surrender to bliss, albeit that these instincts and urges tend to be problematic in some way. Venus in Pisces is not insulated from sexual exploitation or promiscuity, being so inherently indiscriminate and so naturally ready to surrender to the bliss of non-separateness.
When doing love, you may as well be like Pisces about it and abandon yourself to a rudderless chaos. Only that way can you truly find joy and bliss. It has to be intuitive rather than methodical. If you try too hard to do it right, you’ll do it wrong.
Perhaps, among other things, we are being taught in this arcane symbolism that in love, don’t sweat the small stuff, cause it’s gonna be messy anyway.
Grim old Saturn is Exalted in Libra: a sign of measured agreements. To reach high places you patiently take careful, thoroughly considered steps. The abrupt and hurried audacity of Aries is not a particularly effective strategy here. It makes for abrupt and precipitous reversals of fame and fortune.
Alliances and the strict honouring of agreements produces over time a weighty and enduring credibility. It is a cooperative approach that stems from sober practicality and realism and it has little to with with personal affection, which some might associate with the sign Libra. Saturn in Libra is the consummate diplomat who may, however, be cold-blooded and wicked to the core (Margaret Thatcher and Robert Mugabe come to mind).
On the other hand, the fits and starts, and the frustrated pioneering impulses of Vincent van Gogh with his Saturn in Sidereal Aries, offers an example of some of the complications inherent in a fallen Saturn.
This can manifest as a fear of stepping into your power and the expression of your true intentions. Sometimes this plays out as feigned humility and self-effacement, veiling an inner desire to be on top, and to be the winner at the head of things. This self-inhibition may then need to find compensation through eruptions of rage at being undermined, invalidated, ignored and underestimated. A persecution complex, even.
Saturn is playing the long game. You have got to be patient. Carefully manage your alliances and obligations to others. Win the long game.
When a hobbling Saturn in Aries takes a hint from Saturn in Libra, the person may establish a new poise in their self-expression and their relationships which can enable them to build an empire through adeptly scaling the ladder of social hierarchical status (having mastered the art of assertive diplomacy), and leave an enduring legacy of respectable accomplishments.
Saturn forces us to get real. Saturn forces us to face consequences, limitations, and ultimately our own mortality. Saturn is the sunset of life, not the sunrise, and in matters pertaining to Saturn, one should behave accordingly, and thus cordially.