Planetary Families and Groups
In astrology the Sun and Moon are referred to as planets, mostly for convenience, but
also because they move against our geocentric (earth-centered) sky. Because the etymological
meaning of the word “planet” is “to wander,” it made sense for the ancient astrologers who
formulated much of astrology’s jargon and terminology to refer to the Sun and Moon as planets.
Nevertheless, the Sun and Moon are given special status in astrology, together they are known
as the Lights.
They symbolize the life-giving and forming-giving factors of existence. In a sense, they are the solo performers of the celestial planetary orchestra. The Sun, the fountainhead of life energy, represents the will and purpose of all life its power sustains. The Moon, representing ever-changing life-experiences, symbolically gives form to and nourishes solar purpose. Together they represent the bi-polar activity found at the core of all forms of existence—life-force as a unitary power and the distribution of power to wherever it is needed. Their special, cyclic relationship—the lunation cycle,
from new moon to full moon to new moon—will be explored in a forthcoming series . . . or click on the cover image to the left and order the book that restored cyclicity to astrology.
In the symbolic language of astrology, the planets are not regarded as causal or controlling
agencies, the planets don’t “make things happen.” In other words, although the human heart is
said to be the biological analogue of the Sun in astrology, the Sun does not make the heart beat,
no more than the clock on my wall causes me to feel hungry when it indicates dinner time. The symbolic correspondence between the human heart and the Sun is holistic and symbolic rather than causal, the heart serves a function in our biology similar to the Sun’s in the solar system.
There is a deep order and consistency underlying the functions and attributes astrology assigns
the planets. The basis for a planet’s symbolism lies in its position within the solar system as a
whole, as well as its color, size and its orbital characteristics. The planets may be divided into three characteristic groups, based on their positions in the solar system and distance from the Sun. Each group represents a general type of consciousness—our inner, personal consciousness;
our consciousness of the outer, social world; and our collective and transcendent consciousness.
The Inner or Personal Planets.
This group consist of the planets inside Earth’s orbit: Sun, Mercury, Venus and, in a special sense, the Moon. They move quickly through zodiacal space,
corresponding with the rapid pace of ever-changing daily circumstances. This group operates
largely, but not exclusively, in the personal sphere, representing our personal faculties and our
consciousness of the inner world and its landscape. Operating inwardly, theirs is a centripetal
movement reaching toward the centralizing self. In this context, Sun represents your core
purpose and sense of self, and your personal energy and vitality. Next, Mercury differentiates
your primal solar energy, it produces bi-polar, electrical, mental energy. Mercury symbolizes
thought processes and mental associations. Venus adds personal values, ideals and goals into the
mix. The first planet within Earth’s orbit, it represents all inward movement and attempts to
reach center. The Moon, spending half its time within the orbit of the Earth and half its time
outside Earth’s orbit, is the mediating principle of adjustment,
linking the personal and the social spheres.
The Social Planets.
These are the classical, visible planets beyond Earth’s orbit: Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. While the inner planets symbolizes an inward movement toward self, the social planets represent outward activity and participation. They represent consciousness of the outer world. These slower moving planets (Mars has a 2-year orbit, Jupiter’s is 11 years and Saturn has a 29-year orbit) relate to functions and activities that place you within a social context, within situations requiring ambition and interaction with others. Mars, the first planet outside Earth’s orbit, symbolizes all forms of outer action and mobilization. Jupiter expands the external field of activity. It represents participation and the social sphere in general, and what it can give you. Saturn is the outermost planet visible to unaided human vision. It symbolizes the principle of form and definition. Saturn is the binding principle that structures and holds things together. On the biological level, it represents the skin, hair and bone that holds your body together and gives you a unique form and appearance. On the social level, Saturn symbolizes the laws, traditions and special identity of a society or social group.
The Collective or Transcendental Planets.
This group is made up of the three known planets
outside Saturn’s orbit and beyond the range of human sight: Uranus, Neptune and Pluto.
Operating largely in a transcendent sphere, they refer to consciousness of the collective and
universal forces operating behind the scenes acted out by Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. They are
very slow moving bodies (Uranus has a 84-year orbit, Neptune’s orbit is 165 years and it takes
Pluto 246 years to orbit the Sun), and they function primarily in a collective, historical,
unconscious or transformative mode. Uranus, e first planet beyond Saturn, symbolize the breaking-down of barriers. Uranus represents transformations and revolutions—inner and outer—and the inventions which alter our lives and relationships. In our personalities, it is the unrelenting urge to go beyond any limitation. Neptune represents universalizing and dissolving processes, and our transcendent faculties and mystical or psychic experiences. Pluto is the cosmic tester and integrator. It tests for fitness to operate at a higher, more inclusive order, and it reintegrates the psychic material Uranus transformed and Neptune universalized around a new center of being and purpose.
Particulars and Universals.
The planets can also be divided into two groups: Sun to Saturn, dealing with the realm of particulars—consciousness of particular things, people and
experiences; and the trans-Saturnian triad of Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, representing the realm
Three Octaves of Planetary Vibration.
Grouping planets as pairs and triads provides a powerful key to unlocking the psychological dynamics of a birth chart. A forthcoming series on planetary pairs and triads will be featured at CyberWorld Khaldea, but for now you can figure things out for yourself with the help of the accompanying diagram
The Sun, Moon, and Saturn are a natural group. The Sun at the center of our solar system, the Moon defining Earth's "sublunar" realm, and Saturn, the outermost visible planet, symbolizing definition and limitation. These planets are keys to the understanding parental complexes and issues of security. Uranus, the first planet beyond Saturn, may also be pair with Saturn, and together they provide a symbol of the interaction of stability and radical change. Jupiter and Saturn, though not paired in the diagram, are an important pair, representing social, economic, political, and religious institutions and the authorities who run them.
Venus and Mars are an obvious pair, the first planets within and beyond Earth's orbit. Together they are keys to our emotional, creative, and sexual lives. Pluto ties into the pair on a "higher" octave, suggesting that our creative and sexual natures often drive us to express our most intense qualities . . . for better and for worse!
As a pair, Mercury and Jupiter symbolize our faculties of association (Mercury) and participation (Jupiter). Neptune figures as a "higher" aspect of the pair, it symbolizes music, religious compulsions, and psychism (the psychic network and its powerful binding energy) that bind a culture . . . and often holds its members in psychological bondage.
There are other valid combinations, and there are forty-five pairs total. Don't be concerned if all this doesn't make perfect sense to you at this point. As you read the sections on the individual planets, the whole picture will take on clearer features. For now it's important to merely grasp in outline the coherent, holistic framework upon which we derive the symbolism of the individual planets.
For more on planetary pairs and groups, refer to my A Handbook for the Humanistic Astrologer
, or online browse the chapter on Planetary Groups
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