A Feminine Sun? Gender and the Planets

In the current system of Western Astrology, the planets are assigned gender. The Moon and Venus are feminine, Mercury is both masculine and feminine, and the Sun and the rest of the planets are masculine. As with the case of the gender assignment of the elements, the gender assignment of the planets has a long pedigree, and is rarely, if ever, questioned.

Where did these gender assignments come from?

AmaterasuWhile many historical cultures assigned gods and goddesses to the planets, the gender of the planetary deities is far from uniform. The Norse Sun deity, Sunna or Sol, was feminine, as is the Sun deity in Japan, Amaterasu. In the German language, it is still common to refer to the luminaries as Frau Sunne and Herr Mond. In the Vedic tradition, all of the planetary deities are masculine.

The gender of the planets in the Modern Western system has been passed down to us in the seminal ancient astrological textbook, the Tetrobiblios and seems to be derived from the gender of the corresponding god or goddess in the Greco-Roman pantheon.

A Problematic System

I think that this planetary gender assignment is problematic in terms of its influence on popular culture with respect to ideas and beliefs about femininity, and about masculinity, for that matter. I do not think it adds much, if anything, to astrology on a practical level.

One of the first things that one notices is that the planetary gender assignments are not even. There are 4 masculine planets, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, with only 2 feminine planets, the Moon and Venus.  Furthermore, the dominant luminary is assigned to the masculine gender and the subordinate luminary to the feminine gender. This is clearly a system heavily influenced by patriarchy, which is understandable, as Greco-Roman culture was highly patriarchal.

I think that there is an even deeper problem, however, in that it codifies very rigid gender roles that are present to this very day. Not even ardent feminists question the gender assignment of the luminaries. Instead, many of them seem to try to elevate the Moon over the Sun, which is a much greater upset to astrology and metaphysics.

The truth of the matter is that all people, regardless of gender, have all of the seven traditional planets in their chart and in their psyche. There is no way to tell a person’s gender from her Nativity Chart. An astrologer may argue that the planetary gender is mere symbolism and that the symbolism does not apply to actual human gender. Perhaps that may be the perception of an experienced astrologer, but the symbolism most certainly influences lay perception of human gender, and I sincerely doubt that even experienced astrologers are immune.

20180518_173853The current system limits the feminine to the Moon and Venus. Even though Mercury is both masculine and feminine, popular imagery almost always uses a masculine form for Mercury. By the same token, this separates the Lunar and the Venusian from the masculine. One may say that everyone has both masculine and feminine parts, and this is sometimes taken as a truism in modern psychology. I do not believe this to be the case, however, and if there is any truth to it, I do not think it applies to the planets in our charts.

In all of the years that I have practiced astrology and studied my own Nativity Chart, I have never seen any of the planets in my chart as masculine, not even my Mars in Aries. When I personify my Arian Mars, I think of her as Helga the Viking. I do not think that when I am interpreting the chart of a man that his Moon or Venus represent his supposed feminine parts. I think that a man will express his Moon and Venus in a masculine manner, just as I express my Mars in Aries in a feminine manner.

A Proposed Solution

I am a Traditionalist, and for the most part, I believe that traditions, particularly long established ones, should be preserved. On the other hand, I do believe that it is sometimes necessary to adapt traditions to the Modern Age, and that it is often advisable to adapt traditions that are clearly rooted in patriarchy.

As a Filianist, I use feminine language and imagery for God or Dea, and I also use feminine language and imagery for the Janyati, the great angels or Divine Sources behind the Planetary Principles. This is because Filianists do not see the Janyati as separate from Dea, but as the seven main aspects of Her. I would imagine that this is the reason that the planetary deities in the Vedic tradition are all masculine. In the same way, the Judeo-Christian traditions assign each of the planets a masculine Archangel.

I think that planetary powers are actually beyond human gender, the luminaries in particular. I think that the physical planets are as well. One of the difficulties is that English has no neuter pronoun for humans or for Divine powers, so without gender, it is hard not to see the planets as remote or mechanical. For this reason, I think it makes sense to use all feminine language and imagery or all masculine language and imagery. This emphasizes the full range of planetary expression to both genders.

There are times in which it becomes necessary to differentiate genders in a chart, particularly in horary (question) charts. In those cases, I believe that it is appropriate to use Mars for the male gender and Venus for the female one. I do not agree with this use for the Sun and the Moon. I think that the Solar and Lunar Principles are too high to use for human gender. I do agree with the use of the Moon for the mother when it is appropriate. I think that the mother role, which may sometimes be performed by a man, is a reflection of a High Divine Archetype, and thus may be represented by a luminary. I think that the father role of guide and disciplinarian, which may be performed by a woman, is adequately represented by Saturn.

While I see the Divine Principles behind the planets as feminine, when working with Nativity Charts, I tend to view all of the planets as the gender of the native, unless I am looking specifically at a issue that relates to gender. I really think that this makes the most sense overall. It allows me to personify the planets and give them life, while at the same time it avoids creating confusing or limiting perceptions about gender on an internal or external level.

As Different as Night and Day

The most fundamental division in cosmology is the division between Day and Night. The division between Day and Night is so important that it tends to be one of the first, if not the first, division in Creation Mythos.

Judeo-Christian written tradition begins as follows:

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light;” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Genesis 1:1-5, New Revised Standard Version

Deanic/Filianic tradition tells the story of the Snake who “had not been shaped by [the Mother], and that was not Her daughter, nor a creature of Spirit.” The Snake “hated all the things that had become.”  The Snake tempted the first Daughters of Creation saying:

First of the daughters of creation, you have lived for a time that cannot be counted, and have run for all that time in the footsteps of the Mother, and have never taken rest among the things that are.  Only embrace me and you shall have that rest.

The tradition tells how the Daughters of Creation were enticed by the Snake and asked the Mother to darken the world so that they might rest.  While the Daughters of Creation were resting, the Snake attempted to destroy creation in a Great Flood.  The Mistress of All Things rescued Creation; however, manifestation was permanently changed as a result.

…the light came again, and a rainbow appeared in the sky, shedding its light upon all things.  And whereas all things had been golden, now they took on every hue and colour, and the world was beautiful; but it was not as beautiful as it had formerly been.

And She set Her seven Powers in the firmament, giving one to rule each color of the earth.

And She said to Her daughter: what you have done may not be undone, for you have acted with My Spirit, and henceforth shall time be divided into day and night that you may rest.  But I shall keep watch in the heavens by night, and there shall be silver light that there may never be complete darkness.  By this shall I govern the movements of the waters, that the earth may never again be flooded.  The golden light of day will bring all goodness, but it will be too bright for your eyes.  The silver light of night, that you may look upon.

The Mythos of God the Mother, The Gospel of Our Mother God.

vlcsnap-2016-05-06-00h32m41s851The division between Day and Night is the most fundamental division in manifestation, and in Classical Astrology, there are many calculations that are different during the day and during the night. The division between Day and Night is hierarchical, with Day being superior to Night. In the Deanic/Filianic tradition the golden light that is “too bright for [our] eyes” governs the Day and the silver light that we “may look upon” governs the Night. According to the Judeo-Christian written tradition, “God made two great lights – the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night, to separate the light from the darkness.”

In Classical Astrology, in addition to the Sun belonging to the Day and the Moon belonging to the Night, Jupiter and Saturn, the Greater Benefic and the Greater Malefic, belong to the Day, and Venus and Mars, the Lesser Benefic and the Lesser Malefic, belong to the Night.

Day

The Day is bright and lively and golden. The Sun is the Ruler and Luminary of the Day.  The Day is the Realm of the Spirit.   Fundamental to the concept of Sect (Day/Night) is the temperamental quality of heat.  The Day is Hot, which means that activity is sped up during the Day.  The day is when most of us engage in the primary activity of our life. This is when we go to work, go to school, or take part in what we see as our role or our life purpose. The day is when the Queen is on parade. It is busy, exciting, wonderful and important; on the other hand, most other activities are suspended during this time. For people who were born during the day, the primary focus of their life is their “day job,” and their dominant Luminary is the Sun.

vlcsnap-2016-01-17-00h49m26s454Night

The Night is soft and quiet and gentle. The Moon is the Ruler and Luminary of the Night.  The Night is the Realm of the Soul.  While the Day is Hot, the Night is Cold.  Activity slows during the Night. During the night, the primary activities of the day slow down so that we can engage in the other aspects of our lives, such as eating, sleeping, spending time with those we love, and engaging in leisure activities.  For people born during the Night, the primary focus of their lives is not on their “day job,” but upon the other aspects of life, and their dominant Luminary is the Moon.

Gender and the Division Between Day and Night

For quite a long time, astrology has taught that Day is masculine and Night is feminine. This is belief is so deeply ingrained that most people would likely accept this as a truism, whether or not they “believe in astrology.” For reasons I discuss in this article, despite the longevity and stability of this association, I believe it to be dubious.

In the Modern West, discussion concerning gender is tricky and debates about gender are often heated and painful. There are those that believe that gender is strictly biological and qualities of masculinity and femininity are merely “social constructs.” I believe this line of thought to be dubious as well.

My view is in the middle of these extremes. I do believe that masculinity and femininity are real metaphysical principles and that the differences between masculinity and femininity rise beyond the merely physical or societal. On the other hand, I do not believe that this division rises to the level of the fundamental division between Day and Night. I believe that it is a real, but lower level, metaphysical division.

Masculine Earth and a Feminine Sky: Challenging Assumptions about Gender and the Elements

Starting with the most basic Sun Sign books for non-astrologers, we learn that some signs are considered “masculine” and some signs are considered “feminine.” If we later decide to study astrology, the most basic astrology textbooks teach that signs of the elements Air and Fire are “masculine” and signs of the elements Earth and Water are “feminine.” This idea is so pervasive that even people who know nothing about astrology and would swear that they thought astrology was a silly superstition would likely assume that Earth was feminine.

Through many changes and disagreements in astrology, this basic concept has remained remarkably stable for over 2,000 years. So stable that few people would think to challenge it, even those who would otherwise consider themselves ardent feminists. Those who do challenge it generally suggest doing away with the entire system of gender with respect to the zodiac.

Ma'atI believe in Tradition, and in most cases, I would say that such stability in a concept over time is strong evidence for its validity. In this case, however, I believe that this concept must be challenged, because it is one of the bases for the belief that the masculine is superior to the feminine. In the current system, the active day signs are assigned to the masucline, and the passive night signs are assigned to the feminine. Furthermore, Air is the Element of the intellectual and priestly caste, and so this concept can and has been used to exclude women from this caste.

While I understand the temptation to remove gender from the entire system of classification of the zodiac, I think that in one sense this goes too far, and in another, it does not go far enough.

Most of Western Astrology has been transmitted to us through the Greeks. Western Astrology is believed to have originated in Egypt and Chaldea, which is likely the case; however, the system we use was originally recorded and systematized by Greek cosmologists. The Hellenistic influence is so strong that it has even found its way into Vedic astrology.

Greek culture was severely patriarchal, even for its time.  In Athens, women were excluded from all intellectual discourse and were restricted to the home unless they were accompanied by their husband or other male relative. It stands to reason that their cosmology would also be severely patriarchal.

I am about to enter into a rather technical discussion; however, I believe that this matter is important to everyone, not just astrologers. On my astrology blog, there is an article explaining the humors, temperament, and their relationship to the elements, which may be helpful to read before continuing if you are not an astrologer. For the purposes of this discussion, however, the most important thing to know is that the signs are classified along two axes: hot and cold, and wet and dry. I explained in the above article that:

The hot/cold axis relates to both literal heat and to activity level. Hot is fast, busy, and active; cold is slow-moving and calm. The wet/dry axis is a little more abstract. This axis relates to boundaries and distinctions. Moisture blends and softens boundaries and distinctions; dryness hardens them. Without wet there would be no growth; without dry there would be no form.

The elements are also divided into four elements, Air, Fire, Earth, and Water. Air is Hot and Wet, Fire is Hot and Dry, Earth is Cold and Dry, and Water is Cold and Wet. The Hot elements of Air and Fire are day signs, and the Cold elements of Earth and Water are the night signs. The signs alternate between hot and cold around the zodiac, as per this diagram.

Elements and Gender Chart

The Tetrabiblios, by Claudius Ptolemy, is arguably the most important Ancient textbook on Western Astrology. In the Tetrabiblios, the classification of signs and gender is explained as follows:

…they assigned six of the signs to the masculine and diurnal and an equal number to the feminine and nocturnal. An alternating order was assigned to them because day is always yoked to night and close to it, and female to male. Now as Aries is taken as the starting point…and as the male likewise rules and holds first place, since also the active is always superior to the passive in power, the signs of Aries and Libra were thought to be masculine and diurnal,…

After this, Ptolemy continues to describe at least three other systems for dividing masculine and feminine signs, but all of them assume that masculine and diurnal are equivalent and that feminine and nocturnal are equivalent.

Now why does Ptolemy make that assumption?

In the section concerning diurnal and nocturnal planets, he writes:

…the two most obvious intervals of those which make up time, the day is the more masculine because of its heat and active force, and night more feminine because of its moisture and gift of rest…

This passage does not seem to make much sense. The opposite of heat is not moisture, it is cold. Heat and moisture are on separate axes. Also, the night is not moist, the night is cold. The only part of night that is moist is the period between midnight and sunrise, the part of night between sunset and midnight is dry.

To further add to the confusion, in another section, Ptolemy says:

…because two of the four humours are fertile and active, the hot and the moist (for all things are brought together and increased by them), and two are destructive and passive, the dry and the cold, through which all things, again are separated and destroyed,….

What a minute? Here moist is “fertile and active,” yet in the first passage moisture is associated with the “gift of rest.”

I believe that these inconsistencies may be explained by an earlier alteration in the tradition, and the reason for this alteration can be inferred from second passage. The hot and the moist correspond to the element of Air, and the dry and the cold correspond to the element of Earth.  I believe that the original division between masculine and feminine was along the dry and moist axis, not the hot and cold one.

In the section concerning masculine and feminine planets, Ptolemy states,

…there are two primary kinds of natures, male and females, and the forces already mentioned that of the moist is especially feminine….

This would mean that the feminine elements would be the moist ones, Air and Water, and of course, the dry one, Fire and Earth, would be masculine. Yet, Air was considered the highest element, and the element associated with the intellectual classes, from which women were forceably excluded.

Further evidence for the assocation of moisture for feminine and dryness for masculine can be seen in the Egyptian pantheon in which there were several male and female god pairs with the male god associated with dryness and the female god associated with moisture.

Technical Considerations

This is all well and good on a theoretical level; however, astrology is a craft. How would this impact the craft of astrology? Would this change the entire system?

Actually, I think it would improve the craft and make it more useful and harmonious.

To begin with, it would reflect what are arguably the real differences between the feminine and and the masculine, at least with respect to human beings. The association of masculine with active and feminine with passive is dubious at best. Women have always worked as hard, if not harder, than men. Even to this day, when women are in the workforce, they often still have responsibility for the maintenance of the home and are still often the primary caretakers for children. Also, if women were truly passive, there would not have been the need for all of the social and legal restrictions to keep them subservient. Even with all of the restrictions, throughout history, women have found ways to gain power and triumph over patriarchy, even if they have been quiet ways.

On the other hand, when one looks at the actual differences between women and men, they do seem to be along the wet/dry division. Women’s bodies tend to be softer and plumper than those of men. Babies grow in the body of women, and moisture is necessary for growth. All other things being equal, men tend to be more analytical and women tend to be better at making connections. While men tend to be physically stronger, women tend to be more flexible. All of these differences are consistent with a wet/dry division.

What about the neat symmetry of alternating masculine and feminine that Ptolemy described above, and that is shown in the diagram below?

Elements and Gender Chart - Hot and Cold

This may not be of much concern to Modern Astrologers, but it is a very important concern to Traditional/Classical Astrologers. A symmetrical system is consistent with an orderly and harmonious cosmos, and this is essential to why astrology “works” from a Traditional or Classical perspective.

I believe that this system is actually more symmetrical than the current one, not less. Here is a diagram of a gender classification along the wet/dry axis:

Elements and Gender Chart - Wet and Dry

In the first diagram, the gender classification is redundant with the classification between day and night. It does not add anything to the system. Indeed, the hot/cold axis is given two distinct groupings, and the wet/dry axis has none.

Furthermore, in the first diagram, even though signs next to each other have different genders, the signs opposite and across from each other have the same gender. The adage that “opposites attract” holds true in astrology, and signs opposite each other in the zodiac form equal and opposite pairs. Signs next to each other do not and are said to be unable to “see” each other. It is much more harmonious to the overall system for opposite pairs to be of opposite gender that it is for them to be the same gender.

With respect to individual signs:

Libra

This change would make Libra feminine rather than masculine. Libra as a masculine sign always felt counter-intuitive to me. Libra is the sign of the hostess and the diplomat. Libra is motivated by beauty and balance. The most common fault of Libra is indecisiveness. All of these seem to be stereotypical traits of the feminine.

Aquarius

Aquarius, the Water Bearer, would also be feminine. It is true that Aquarius is generally depicted as a young man pouring water, and there are Greek and Egyptian myths that support the masculine association with the constellation. That being said, there is nothing inherently masculine about symbol of a water bearer. On the contrary, one could argue that this symbol is inherently feminine.

Actually, in one Greek myth, the constellation of Aquarius is occupied by one of Zeus’ favorites, Ganymede. Ganymede incurred the wrath of Zeus’ wife, Hera. Hera was jealous of Ganymede in part because of Zeus’ attention and affections for him, but also in part because he usurped the place of her daughter, Hebe, the goddess of youth. To me, this myth seems strangely fitting to the topic of this article.

Taurus and Virgo

This change would make Virgo the Virgin masculine rather than feminine. Admitted, this is counter-intuitive. On the other hand, Taurus the Bull would become masculine rather than feminine.

Summary

In this article, I have proposed an alteration to the present system of gender classification with respect to the signs. I have argued that the current classification along the hot/cold axis is likely a patriarchal alteration to justify subjugation of the feminine and to bar women from the priestly and intellectual classes. I have also argued that it is likely the original classification was along the wet/dry axis, and that this classification would be consistent with real differences between the feminine and the masculine in human beings. Furthermore, this system of classification would be more symmetrical and harmonious than the current one.

***Upon further reflection, I have come to the belief that adding a new gender classification to astrology is too controversial in this day and age. My new proposal is to drop the gender classification with respect to sect, and add a new classification along the wet/dry polarity. I have termed this polarity consistency, and the two sides: soft, corresponding to wet, and hard, corresponding to dry.

For more information about this, see:

Soft and Hard, The Wet/Dry Polarity and Its Relationship to Astrological Aspects