You might often hear people mention they have a “strong Mercury” or a “dominant Mars”, but what does that really mean and how do you know whether a planet is strong or dominant in your chart? While there are different schools of thought that may offer different perspectives on this question, in traditional astrology there are actually easy ways to determine the strong or dominant placements in your chart. In fact, there is a big difference between a planet that is strong versus a planet that is dominant. This has everything to do with the difference between essential and accidental dignity. Here’s a few quick ways to check which placements and planets are particularly strong or dominant in your own birth chart:
Your ruling planet has the strongest influence in your life
Many modern astrologers place a lot of emphasis on the ascendant as an important point of the chart. While this is certainly true, the ruling planet of your ascendant may be even more important. The sign on your ascendant will tell you something about your unique path in life, but the ruling planet of the ascendant decides how you walk that path. If you think of your birth chart as a ship, the ascendant represents the helm of the ship and the direction you are heading. The ascendant ruler is your helmsman, or captain, which determines how you reach your final destination. It is the planet that represents “you” in the chart. In addition, the ruling planet of your ascendant represents your physical body and overall health.
Taking all of these things into consideration, it may be clear why the ruling planet of your ascendant plays such an important role in your chart! In general, you can say that when you are, for example, a Taurus or Libra rising, that Venus is dominant and important in your birth chart as she rules your ascendant. And a person with Aries or Scorpio on the ascendant will have strong feautures that correspond with the planet Mars. Of course this can be slightly nuanced by the sign and house placement of your chart ruler (which will further influence strength or dominance), but in most cases you can say that your ruling planet will have a strong influence on your chart and your life. Please note that we use traditional rulership for this. Uranus, Neptune and Pluto don’t rule planets.
Your sect light tells you how you shine
In modern astrology, your Sun sign is one of the most important placements, but from a traditional astrology perspective, it depends on the time of day you were born whether the Sun is actually the most important. Both the Sun and Moon are luminaries and it really depends on the sect (day or night) of your chart which one is more important. If you were born during the daytime (the Sun is above the ascendant-descendant line in your birth chart), then the Sun is your most important luminary and sect light. But if you were born at night (the Sun is below the ascendant-descendant line in your birth chart), then the Moon is your most important luminary and sect light.
Your sect light, or most important luminary, is another indicator of vitality in the chart, where the Sun represents strength and intelligence, and the Moon represents the physical body. Both luminaries represent the idea of visibility and being seen, which can manifest in different ways. Regardless, your most important luminary shows you where you shine or “light up in life”. It is therefore a very important placement in the chart.
Planet in rulership or exaltation are strong
Planetary strength is most easily determined through the concept of essential dignity. In astrology, a strong planet is considered dignified. There are two types of dignity: essential and accidental dignity. Essential dignity refers to the relative strength or weakness of a planet (or point), based on its sign placement or specific degree. It determines whether a planet is functional in the chart. This is based on the idea that planets can feel more or less comfortable in certain (parts of) signs and elements. There are five essential dignities (rulership/detriment, exaltation/fall, triplicity, terms, and face), but for the purpose of this blog post we will only look at rulership and exaltation.
One easy way to understand how rulership and exaltation work, is to think of planets in signs through the lens of citizenship. A planet in rulership (in a sign it rules) is like a citizen in their own country. They speak the language, know all the customs and generally have the tools and support to do the things they want to do. Exaltation refers to a planet thats “uplifted”, which translates to a VIP guest. These planets may not be citizens in their own country, but they are treated as special guests and therefore have equal or even more access to the tools and support that planets in rulership have. Simply put, planets in rulership or exaltation have all the resources to do the things that planet wants to do, and they will therefore share a pure expression of that planet.
Usually this also means that planets in rulership or exaltation come with special talents or gifts. A person with a strong Mercury (in Gemini or Virgo) might be an excellent communicator with strong writing skills, great networker and someone who is able to gather and process large or complex data. Someone with a strong Moon (in Cancer or Taurus) probably is very emphathetic and able to nurture others in ways that other Moon placements might not.
If you dont know the signs in which certain planets have rulership or exaltation, here’s a quick cheatsheet:
Sun: rules Leo, exalts in Aries Moon: rules Cancer, exalts in Taurus Mercury: rules Gemini and Virgo, exalts in VirgoVenus: rules Taurus and Libra, exalts in PiscesMars: rules Aries and Scorpio, exalts in Capricorn Jupiter: rules Sagittarius and Pisces, exalts in CancerSaturn: rules Capricorn and Aquarius, exalts in Libra
Planets in angular houses are active and potent
While planets in rulership or exaltation are considered to be strong, they may not always be able to play an active role in your life. Activity and relative importance are determined by accidental dignity, which shows whether a planet is able to act. The most active and potent houses in the birth chart are the 1st, 10th, 7th, 4th, 11th and 5th houses (in that order). Out of these, the angular houses (1st, 4th, 7th, and 10th) in particular tend to be the most active. Planets in these houses show up loudly and will definitely make a lasting impact. This is because the angular houses represent key topics and themes in our life, such as personality, family, relationships, and career. For most of us, these topics are the common thread of our lives.
It’s important to note that while planets in angular houses may play an active role in your life, they may not be always be strong. This is the big difference between essential dignity (planetary strength) and accidental dignity (house placement, aspect, speed, position relative to the Sun).
One way to think of this, is to think of essential dignity as “ability” and accidental dignity as “opportunity” or “circumstance”. You could be a very talented and excellent employee, but work in a miserable environment, where your boss treats you horribly and you’re not getting decent pay. Astrologically, this would translate to a technically strong planet being stuck in a more challenging house. This does not undermine the strength of that particular planet and you may still have specific talents, but you’re not getting a lot of opportunity to show those talents to the world. Conversely, you could work for a renowned and respectable organisation, but lack the ability or skill to do your job well and therefore make a lot of mistakes in the public eye. This could be a technically weak planet up on display in the 10th house. There can thus be many different variations of strong and active placements in the chart. A planet can be functional (strong) but not active, functional and active (which is the proverbial jackpot), not functional and active, or not functional and not active.
Extra things that impact accidental dignity
Having planets in angular houses (1st, 4th, 7th, and 10th) is definitely one of the most important indicators of accidental dignity. But on top of that, there are a few extra things to look out for when you are trying to determine whether you have dominant or strong placements:
- Planets in strong places in the chart: Alongside the angular houses, the 11th and 5th house are also considered to be great places for planets to be in. Planets near the Ascendant or Midheaven (which can fall anywhere in the top half of the chart) are also very important and impactful in the birth chart.
- Planets in “joy”: Each planet also have a “favourite” house in the chart, which is the place of that planet’s joy. A planet in joy will generally be quite happy, though of course this won’t cancel out other astro data, such as when the planet is in a sign it doesn’t really like. The joys of the planets are: Sun in the 9th, Moon in the 3rd, Mercury in the 1st, Venus in the 5th, Mars in the 6th, Jupiter in the 11th, Saturn in the 12th.
- Planets in the heart of the Sun: There is a special thing that happens to a planet when it’s in close proximity to the Sun – which is probably worth an entire blog post on its own. If you’re already familiar with the terms combustion and cazimi, then it’s worth noting that a planet that is cazimi (i.e. within 17 minutes of the arc of the center of the Sun) is also very strong and functional.
There are many more indicators of strength and dominance in the chart (such as aspects, speed, triplicity, term, and face), but these things require a bit more of a deep dive into the chart. Are you curious about exploring your strengths and talents in more detail? Book a consultation with me!