Twelve Gods and Seven Planets, by Ken Gillman

Ed. N.: This article was previously published in Considerations ( volume XI number 4, November 1996-January 1997, pp. 63-95). It is absolutely crucial for the understanding of the rulerships. (I’ve personally reached similar conclusions upon the subject in my doctoral thesis, and before (1986) in an article published in a French magazine of Lyon).

THE SIGNS and the planets are obviously closely related. When we interpret a planet in the birthchart we do so in terms of where the Sign(s) it rules are located among the houses. In interpreting the meaning of a Sign we relate it to the strength and location of its planetary ruler. The standard allocation of the seven classical planets to the various Signs of the Zodiac (Mars ruling Aries and Scorpio, Venus ruling Taurus and Libra, etc.) is listed in virtually every textbook from Ptolemy to Tyl.

I’ve been trying to learn how and why these rulerships were originally allocated. My search was mainly unsuccessful yet in the process I came across another rulership scheme that existed for at least two thousand years – it probably even pre-dates the Signs of the Zodiac for it existed in 1600 B.C. This older rulership scheme co-existed with our standard rulership scheme for several centuries. It disappeared in the early 6th century when it was effectively banned by the Catholic Church. This article presents the evidence for this older rulership scheme and then discusses some of the implications knowledge of it may have to us today. One important implication is that reference to Greek mythology as a way of getting at the meanings of the planets may not be as valid as many writers on astrology seem to believe.

The Evidence

WHILE THE ZODIAC, the narrow strip in the sky in which we observe and measure the movements of the Sun, Moon and the planets, was undoubtedly recognized in Babylon 4,000 or so years ago it was not apparently until about 520 B.C. that the twelve Signs were actually defined. This seems to have been done by Cleostratos of Tenedos [1], who divided the ecliptic into twelve equal parts and is said to have “recognized the Signs of the Zodiac.” He reputedly described them in a now-lost poem, Astrologia.

Before there were Signs there were months. The earliest calendars were lunar, a month lasting either from first crescent to first crescent or from full moon to full moon. Twelve 30-day months and five extra days made up the year. And each month was believed to have a separate god as its ruler or guardian. Evidence of this concept can be traced to both ancient Babylon and Egypt.

The month gods first appear in Egyptian art as early as the Eighteenth Dynasty, some 1,600 years before Christ. In Western Europe this was the Bronze Age, the period when Stonehenge was being built. Twelve gods for twelve months, originally the month gods seem to have been deities in whose honor a festival was held on the first day of each month.

The Egyptian month gods at this time were, in sequence, Thy, goddess of the first month, Ptah, Hathor, Sekhmet, Min, Rkh-Wr, Rkh-Nds, Rnwtt, Khonsu, Khnt-Khnty, Ipt, and Re-Harakhty, god of the twelfth month. They included five goddesses, five gods, and two hippopotami (Rkh-Wr and Rkh-Nds). These gods appear in the above order on an alabaster waterclock from the reign of Amenhotep III (1397-1360 B.C.).[2] Except that the hippopotami are replaced by jackals, they are in the same order on ceilings in the temples of Ramses I (1290-1223 B.C.) and Ramses II (1174-1147 B.C.). On these two ceilings, in the center of the band, a dog-headed ape squats on a pillar, the symbol of Thoth, god of the five intercalary days.

The Egyptian month gods were still considered sacred nine hundred years later in the time of Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.). There are extant representations of Alexander and later Macedonian rulers of Egypt making offerings to these month gods. Representations of these same native month gods continued to be used in Roman times. On two water clocks depicting the appropriate month gods the Latin name of the months are incised on the rims.

The twelve Egyptian gods began as month gods. Later, some time before the third century B.C., they also became protectors of the Zodiac Signs. At that time Appollonius Rhodius, a Greek poet who was chief librarian at Alexandria, wrote “the Egyptians call the twelve Zodiac Signs’ counselor gods by name, and the planets attendants.” It was the Twelve Gods then who ruled the Signs of the Zodiac, not the planets. Herodotus, the man Cicero called ‘the father of history’ in the second book of his Histories, also refers several times to an Egyptian set of Twelve Gods. He wrote “each month and each day belongs to one of the gods.”

The Babylonians also believed there were twelve major gods, each of whom watched over a month and one of the twelve Zodiac Signs. This we learn from the Bibliotheca Historica written by Diodorus Siculus, a first century B.C. Greek historian.

The Greeks were familiar with the concept of twelve leading gods. They had their own twelve Olympians. In Athens, the Olympians were the patrons of the city state, concerned with the maintenance and prosperity of the civic order, especially justice, and also bestowing upon Athens primacy among Greek cities.

The individual Egyptian month gods were not the exact equivalent of the twelve Olympians whom the Romans later also recognized as month gods, only Ptah presides over the same month as his Greco-Roman equivalent Hephaistos/Vulcan. The twelve Egyptian month gods are not regarded as the source for the Greek Twelve (they were worshipped and invoked individually while the Greeks invoked them as a group; the Greek twelve were wholly anthropomorphic, the Egyptian included the two hippos, later jackals), but knowledge of this similar set of deities may have led to the later association of the twelve gods of Greece and Rome with the months.

REFERENCES IN classical literature to altars to the Twelve Gods founded by Greek heroes imply that the cult existed in Greece during the late Bronze Age: the sixth century B.C. Greek lyric poet Pindar refers to altars founded by Herakles at Olympia, Hellanicus (a fifth century historian) wrote that Deukalion founded an altar in Thessaly, while Herodotus cites Jason’s sacrifice to the Twelve Gods by the Bosphoros. In the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, probably composed in the 8th century B.C., the infant god, after killing Apollo’s cattle, set aside twelve portions for the gods.

Plato (c.427-c.347 B.C.) believed the Twelve should have a central role in the ideal city. In his Laws, he proposed that the citizens be divided into twelve tribes, each to be named for one of the Twelve Gods, who would serve as its patron deity. He also proposed that the ideal city should hold a festival each month for one of the Twelve and that the festival of the twelfth month be devoted to Plouton.

Plouton, the Greek god of the underworld, was not one of the Greek Twelve. The last month of the Greek year, to which Plato’s twelfth month corresponded, was Skirophorion, named after the Skira festival which took place during the month. The Skira seems to have been connected with the rape of Persephone/Kore by Plouton. It is roughly equivalent to June, when today the vegetation dries up and dies in Greece. Thus, the death of vegetation coinciding with the death of the year made it a particularly suitable month to be dedicated to Plouton, and there was already a festival during the month with which he was associated. Plato interpreted Plouton as ‘the giver of wealth’. In art, Plouton regularly holds a cornucopia, symbol of wealth and fertility.

There is no evidence before Plato’s time that the Greek Twelve as a group had any connection with the months. Eudoxos of Cnidos, who is known today as ‘the founder of scientific astronomy’, is thought to have been responsible for identifying the twelve Olympians with the Signs of the Zodiac. In doing so, he was obviously following the Egyptian tradition; he is known to have spent sixteen months in Egypt sometime in the period 378-364 B.C.

In his Phaedrus, Plato described the Twelve Gods as astral deities who drive through the heavens, maintaining order in the heavens. This has been interpreted as supporting the association of the Twelve Gods with the Signs of the Zodiac. In Plato’s thought, the Twelve Gods were no longer the parochial set who watched over the prosperity of Athens and ensured its dominance over other cities, but universal deities concerned with the well-being of the Kosmos.

In 293 B.C., the months of the city of Demetrias in Thessaly were named after the twelve Olympians. This is the earliest association of the twelve Olympians as a group with the months. We know only the names of ten of the months: Aphrodision, Areios, Artemision, Athenaion, Deios (of Zeus), Demetrion, Hephaiston, Hermaion, Hestios, and Poseidon. Unfortunately, we do not know the order of the months.

The Twelve were represented in various ways, possibly the most interesting being a circle containing a ring of twelve dots at Epidauros. However, there is no evidence that the association of the Olympians with the months was expressed in Greek art.

THE EARLIEST Babylonian list of relations between months and deities has been dated to approx. 1,000 B.C. The gods of three of the Babylonian months can be equated with the Olympian associated with the same month – Ishtar with Demeter/Ceres, Marduk with Ares/Mars, and Sin with Apollo. In each instance, however, the Babylonian deity has a different Greco-Roman counterpart in the system established for the planetary gods.

Table 1: Babylonian planetary gods and their Greek and Roman equivalents

Planet Babylonian Greek Roman
Saturn Ninib (Ninurta) Kronos Saturn
Jupiter Marduk Zeus Jupiter
Mars Nergal Ares Mars
Venus Ishtar Aphrodite Venus
Mercury Nabu Hermes Mercury
Moon Sin Artemis Diana
Sun Shamash Apollo Apollo

    THE TWELVE GODS, also known as Di Consentes, were introduced to Rome some time before the third century B.C. In 217 B.C., after Rome had suffered a serious defeat at the hands of the Carthaginian Hannibal, the Roman Senate ordered the Roman priestly college of the decemviri to consult the Sibylline books and determine how the wrath of the gods could be appeased. In due course, they were informed that a sacred banquet should be held to honor the gods. Six couches were set up in public, one for Jupiter and Juno, a second for Neptune and Minerva, a third for Mars and Venus, a fourth for Apollo and Diana, a fifth for Vulcan and Vesta, and the last for Mercury and Ceres, twelve gods in all. Only heads of gods were originally represented on the couches. In the event, Rome was saved from Hannibal; so this unusual banquet was justified.

Saturn was not one of the twelve. In the first century B.C., a set of bronze statues of the twelve Di Consentes stood in the Roman Forum. They were juxtaposed with the public treasury, which was kept in the Temple of Saturn, and the public records kept in the Tabularium. The Di Consentes were thus admirably suited to the protection of the state, able to supervise the business of government and watch out for financial or administrative wrong-doing.

The Twelve Gods appeared in Rome at a time of crisis. The Twelve promptly displayed their ability to protect Rome and cause it to flourish. The cult the Romans had imported was the old Greek municipal cult, and it remained attached to the city of Rome.

The Latin names for the months are not generally derived from those of the Olympians. The two obvious exceptions are March (Martius) and June (Iunis), named for Mars and Juno. The association of Mars with March persisted in illustrated calendars into the middle ages, long after the month gods disappeared as a set. The Latin poet Ovid connected Venus with April (Aprilis), while May (Maius) can be said to relate to Maia, the mother of Hermes/Mercury. Only these four months were initially named, the rest were numbered, with our July the fifth month (March was the first) being Quintilis, our month of August was Sextilis, and so on. This Roman custom of naming the first four and numbering the remainder is fascinating; it occurred also in Roman families, the children after the first four being called Quintus, Sextus, etc.[3]The month of Quintilis was later renamed July to commemorate Julius Caesar in 44 B.C., and Sextilis was changed to August to honor Augustus in 8 B.C. The naming of January and February had occurred earlier, at the time the start of Rome’s civil year was moved from March to January.

Table 2: The Twelve Gods of Greece & their equivalents in Rome

Female Male
Greek Roman Greek Roman
Aphrodite Venus Ares Mars
Artemis Diana Apollo Apollo
Athena Minerva Hephaistos Vulcan
Demeter Ceres Poseidon Neptune
Hera Juno Zeus Jupiter
Hestia Vesta Hermes Mercury
The male-female pairings in Table 2 were the usual ones

    THE ROMAN SYSTEM which has an Olympian associated with each month as a tutela or guardian appears full-blown in the first century A.D. (after the calendar reform of Julius Caesar) in the so-called rustic calendar engraved on a small, free-standing marble pillar. The surviving example, now in the National Museum in Naples, has three columns on each face, each headed by a Zodiacal Sign in low relief and listing the Roman name of the month associated with the Sign, the number of days, the number of daylight and night hours, the position of the Sun, the tutelary deity, and the principal festivals as well as agricultural activities. An English translation of the inscription [4]is as follows:

Month January. 31 days. Nones on 5th. Day 9 hours, night 14 hours. Sun in Capricorn. Patronage of Juno.

Month February. 28 days. Nones on 5th. Day 10 hours, night 13 hours. Sun in Aquarius. Patronage of Neptune. Fields are sown.

Month March. 31 days. Nones on 7th. Day 12 hours, night 12 hours. Equinox March 24th. Sun in Pisces. Patronage of Minerva.

Month April. 30 days. Nones on 5th. Day 13 hours, night 10 hours. Sun in Aries. Patronage of Venus.

Month May. 31 days. Nones on 7th. Day 14 hours, night 9 hours. sun in Taurus. Patronage of Apollo. Fields are weeded. Sheep are shorn. Wool is washed. Bullocks are tamed.

Month June. 30 days. Nones on 5th. Day 15 hours, night 9 hours. Summer solstice June 23. Sun in Gemini. Patronage of Mercury.

Month July (so named). 31 days. Nones on 7th. Day hours 14, night hours 9. Sun in Cancer. Patronage of Jupiter.

Month August (so named). 31 days. Nones on 5th. Day of 13 hours, night of 11 hours. Sun in Leo. Patronage of Ceres.

Month September. 30 days. Nones on 5th. Day 12 hours, night 12 hours. Equinox September 23. Sun in Virgo. Patronage of Vulcan.Storage jars are coated with pitch.

Month October. 31 days. Nones on 7th. Day 10 hours, night 13 hours. Sun in Libra. Patronage of Mars.Grape harvest.

Month November. 30 days. Nones on 5th. Day 9 hours, night 14 hours. Sun in Scorpio. Patronage of Diana.Sowing of wheat and barley.

Month December. 31 days. Nones on 5th. Day 9 hours, night 15 hours. Sun in Sagittarius. Patronage of Vesta.Beginning of winter. They dung the vineyards, sowing beans, etc.

The relationship of the different gods to the months and Zodiacal Signs on these rustic calendars is very different from those we might expect. Jupiter for July!

Manilius arranged the deities in the same order in his Astronomica, the oldest surviving complete astrological text, written during the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius (30 B.C.-37 A.D.), but he shifted the Sign associated with each deity one place, see Table 3. He also began his list with Aries, the Sign of the spring equinox, rather than with January, the first month of the Roman year.

“Pallas (Minerva) watches over the Woolbearer (Aries);
Cytherea (Venus) over Taurus; Phoebus (Apollo) the shapely Gemini; You, Cyllenius (Mercury), over Cancer; and Jupiter, you yourself rule Leo with the Mother of the Gods; Virgo who bears ears of grain belongs to Ceres; and the forged scales to Vulcan; quarrelsome Scorpio clings to Mars;
Diana cherishes the hunting man part horse (Sagittarius); and Vesta the contracted stars of Capricorn; opposite Jupiter is Aquarius, the star of Juno; and Neptune acknowledges his own Pisces in the upper air.”

Table 3: Concordance between the Rustic Calendars & Manilius

Month Deity Sign
Rustic calendars Manilius
January Juno Capricorn Aquarius
February Neptune Aquarius Pisces
March Minerva Pisces Aries
April Venus Aries Taurus
May Apollo Taurus Gemini
June Mercury Gemini Cancer
July Jupiter Cancer Leo
August Ceres Leo Virgo
September Vulcan Virgo Libra
October Mars Libra Scorpio
November Diana Scorpio Sagittarius
December Vesta Sagittarius Capricorn

    Manilius placed the Sign of Leo under the Mother of the Gods as well as Jupiter. The supreme Goddess, Astarte/Cybele, was usually associated with lions. A limestone plaque in Jordan shows Cybele surrounded by Signs of the Zodiac. At the top of the Zodiac the figure of Aries is replaced by a bust of Athena/Minerva, tutelary goddess of the Sign. Next to her is a nude male bust with the Sign of Libra, and other busts replace Sagittarius, Capricorn and Aquarius.

The time span allotted to a Zodiacal Sign and a given month, then as now, do not exactly coincide. In the Rustic Calendar and the poem of Manilius the deities are assigned to one month and two successive Signs of the Zodiac. It follows that originally the gods were tutelae of the months, not of the Zodiac Signs. This agrees with the historical sequence: in Demetrias the months were named for the Olympians ca. 293 B.C. The rise of personal astrology with its emphasis on the Zodiac seems to have occurred in Alexandria in the second century B.C. The source for the Roman system was Greek and may have been inspired by Plato’s recommendation in the Laws.

It has been suggested that Manilius began with an association of Olympians with Zodiac Signs. These led to the connection of the deity with the month in which the Zodiac Sign rises and hence to the shift in the preceding Sign which is found in the rustic calendars.

Charlotte R. Long [5], author of the excellent The Twelve Gods of Greece and Rome (a main source for this article), believes this theory is clearly contradicted by the arrangements on the sides of the so-called Altar, found in Gabii in 1793 by Gavin Hamilton excavating on behalf of Prince Borghese. It is one of the pieces in the Borghese collection purchased for the Louvre by Napoleon. It is dated as Hadrianic, 117-138 A.D. Mrs. Long describes it as looking like a very ornamental birdbath, although the official identification is that it was a sundial. Twelve raised divine heads encircle the rim. These are pairings of the gods: a goddess matched with the god ruling the opposite Sign of the Zodiac, with the goddess of the pair on the right of the male. Of the six pairings, only three are the same as those at the 217 B.C. banquet.

Around the sides are attributes of the twelve Olympians arranged in the order of the months, reading from left to right, and juxtaposed with the Signs of the Zodiac. These are so arranged that a given attribute follows the Zodiac Sign associated with the deity in the Roman rustic calendars and precedes the Sign ascribed to the same deity by Manilius.

This arrangement, Mrs. Long contends, substantiates the hypothesis that the Olympians served primarily as guardians of the months rather than the Zodiac Signs.

The heads on top in counter-clockwise order, beginning with the best preserved are:

a. Venus, with Cupid behind her right shoulder
b. Mars wearing a helmet
c. Diana, with a quiver behind her right shoulder
d. Apollo, nude with long side curls
e. Vesta, with long side curls wearing peplos
f. Youthful Mercury with caduceus
g. Ceres, with long, loose hair covered by a veil
h. Neptune with a trident
i. Minerva (now wholly restored)
j. A youthful Vulcan, with hair to the nape of his neck
k. Juno (now wholly restored)
l. Jupiter, shoulder-length hair, thunderbolt.

Table 4: The arrangement on sides of the Altar of Gabii

Symbol Deity Zodiac Sign
Peacock Juno
Dolphins Neptune
Owl Minerva
Dove Venus
Tripod Apollo
Winged Tortoise Mercury
Eagle Jupiter
Basket Ceres
Pileus [6] Vulcan
Wolf Mars
Dog Diana
Lamp Vesta

Note: The sequence is continuous, Capricorn appears only once.

Other Examples

IN ADDITION TO the Rustic Calendars, the Altar at Gabii, and Manilius, there are only four other known examples that relate the Twelve Gods to the month and/or the Sign of the Zodiac. One of these relates to both month and Sign, two to the month only, and the fourth to just the Sign.

1. A 13-meter-square polychrome carpet mosaic, found at Hellin in Albacete, Spain, and now exhibited in Madrid. It has sixteen principle octagonal panels, the four in the center represent the seasons. The twelve outer panels were originally labeled with the names of the months, each had a deity mounted on a monster or winged genius symbolizing a Zodiac Sign. The choice of deity seems to depend here on the religious calendar rather than on the rustic one. The deity honored is the one honored by the chief festival of the month. The following months are preserved:

  • February – label only
  • April – Venus riding a man-bull, Taurus. (The Veneralia festival was celebrated on the Kalends of April.)
  • May – Mercury riding a winged genius who holds twins in his extended hand, Gemini. (May was named for Maia, the mother of Hermes-Mercury, and a festival honoring mother and son was held on the Ides of May.)
  • August – Diana seated on a centaur holding an arrow, Virgo. (The Natalis of Diana was celebrated on the Ides of August. The Vulcanalia was also held in August, but later in the month after the change of Zodiac Sign, and Vulcan is shown here as the tutela of the next month.)
  • September – Vulcan on winged genius carrying scales, Libra.
  • October – helmeted beardless deity with long skirt (a martial goddess such as Minerva rather than Mars) riding on a winged genius who empties a basket of grapes, in the hair are the claws of Scorpio. (The main festival in October, the Armilustrum, celebrated the army. October was the traditional end of the fighting year.)
  • November – eiled goddess with scepter, seated on a centaur carrying a bow and arrow, Sagittarius. (The veiled goddess is most likely Isis as the great festival of Isis was in November, extending from October 28 to November 3.)
  • December – Goddess with lance (Minerva most likely) riding creature with goat legs, Capricorn.

2. The earliest extant representations of the month gods outside of Egypt are a series of medallions with busts of gods painted in a room at the western edge of Pompeii. These can be dated before the destruction of Pompeii in A.D. 79. The four identifiable busts depict April (Venus), July (Jupiter), September (Vulcan) and November (Diana).

3. Another polychrome carpet mosaic, dated to the end of the third or early in the fourth century, A.D., was laid by a certain Monnus in a villa in Trier. It also included representations of the months and seasons. Eight of these panels are extant:

  • April – only the label survives
  • May – fragment of a caduceus, Mercury
  • June – diademed goddess with a scepter, Juno
  • July – bearded Neptune with a trident
  • August – beardless deity in a red garment, Ceres or Diana
  • September – bearded Vulcan equipped with tongs
  • October – youthful Bacchus crowned with vine leaves
  • November – Isis

4. A marble candelabrum base with summer month gods was found in the basement of the Villa Pinciana in Rome in 1767/68. Date: Roman Imperial, probably second century after Christ. It was taken to Paris with other pieces in the Borghese collection by Napoleon and is now in the Musée de Louvre (inv. no. MA 610). The three-sided base has a single deity on each face, mounted on a figure symbolizing a Zodiac Sign.

  • Neptune with horse and dolphin on left forearm riding on a triton with attached crab legs and claws, Cancer. The Neptunalia festival was celebrated in Rome on July 23, under Cancer.
  • Jupiter, bearded, with eagle, riding a man-lion, Leo.
  • Draped goddess, originally with scarf billowing behind head, riding on girl with clinging drapery, Virgo. The goddess is either Venus, Ceres or Diana.

Table 5: The Twelve Gods of the Zodiac

Sign Rustic Manilius Gabii Hellin Villa Pinciana
Aries Venus Minerva Minerva
Taurus Apollo Venus Venus Venus
Gemini Mercury Apollo Apollo Mercury
Cancer Jupiter Mercury Mercury Neptune
Leo Ceres Jupiter Jupiter Jupiter
Virgo Vulcan Ceres Ceres Diana Goddess
Libra Mars Vulcan Vulcan Vulcan
Scorpio Diana Mars Mars Goddess
Sagittarius Vesta Diana Diana Isis
Capricorn Juno Vesta Vesta Minerva
Aquarius Neptune Juno Juno
Pisces Minerva Neptune Neptune

Table 6: The Twelve Gods of the Months

Month Rustic Hellin Pompeii Trier
Jan Juno
Feb Poseidon
Mar Minerva
Apr Venus Venus Venus
May Apollo Mercury Mercury
Jun Mercury Juno
July Jupiter Jupiter Poseidon
Aug Ceres Diana Diana/Ceres
Sep Vulcan Vulcan Vulcan Vulcan
Oct Mars Goddess Bacchus
Nov Diana Isis Diana Isis
Dec Vesta Minerva

    THE PLANETARY gods form a closed set of seven that is readily distinguished from the twelve month or Zodiac gods by the presence of Saturn. It is evident that both allocations co-existed at the same time. For example, both the twelve-month/Zodiac gods and the seven are represented on separate sets of painted medallions in the same room at Pompeii. The seven planetary gods were also combined with the Signs of the Zodiac they usually rule. Thus at Pompeii, Jupiter is depicted both as a month/Zodiac god protecting July/Leo and as the planetary god ruling the two Signs Sagittarius and Pisces.

The seven were related to the twelve Signs on a set of astrological coins issued by Alexandria under Antonius Pius (A.D. 137-161). These coins each have a single planetary god combined with the Zodiac Sign normally associated with that particular planet.

The seven are also depicted on a polychrome carpet mosaic from Bir Chana in North Africa. Here Saturn occupies the central panel with the remaining six planetary gods in adjacent panels and the Signs of the Zodiac between these and the outer edge.

THE CULT of the Twelve Gods seems to have gone underground after the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 A.D. at which Constantine, inspired to fight under the symbol of the Christian God (a flaming cross that appeared in the sky inscribed ‘In this conquer’), defeated Maxentius, who presumably had the traditional gods of Rome on his side. It followed that the God of the Christians must be the Supreme Being on whom the welfare of the state depended. Constantine accepted Him as such, converted to Christianity, and gave civil rights and toleration to Christians throughout the Empire. He was indebted to the Christian God for his success, not to Jupiter Optimus Maximus and the rest. Thus Constantine of necessity established a new divine patron for the state.

The cult had to resort to subterfuge. One of the Church fathers, Clement of Alexandria (150-215) had written in Excerpta ex Theodotathat the apostles would replace the Signs of the Zodiac, presiding over rebirth as formerly the Signs had watched over birth. The Twelve Olympians took the hint and became the Twelve Apostles.

For his burial place Constantine, who had been an ardent follower of Sol Invictusas the universal supreme god prior to Milvian Bridge, built himself a mausoleum, which he dedicated as a church of the Holy Apostles. His sarcophagus was placed in the center flanked by memorials to the twelve apostles (it could also be considered a representation of the Sun surrounded by the twelve Signs of the Zodiac). Three of the apostles had stars carved besides their heads, which tends to confirm this assimilation of the apostles with the astral deities and the Zodiac.

Whether or not Constantine’s rather blatant final act could be construed as reverting to the old pagan religion on his deathbed, it certainly did not please the newly empowered Church in Rome. His sarcophagus was very quickly removed from the Church of the Holy Apostles, on the pretext that the building was unsafe (this occurred only a year or so after the Church was built, during the reign of his son Constantius II), and placed in a rotunda next to the church, where later emperors were also entombed

Table 7: Relationship between the Twelve Gods & the Twelve Apostles

Olympian Sign Apostle
Minerva Aries Peter
Venus Taurus Simon Zelotes
Apollo Gemini James ‘the lesser’
Mercury Cancer Andrew
Jupiter Leo John
Ceres Virgo Philip
Vulcan Libra Bartholomew
Mars Scorpio Thomas
Diana Sagittarius James
Vesta Capricorn Matthew
Juno Aquarius Thaddeus-Jude
Neptune Pisces Judas Iscariot

    There was a revival of the old pagan religion during the brief reign of Julian the Apostate (361-363). Allied and counseled by Neoplatonists, he brought back the Twelve Gods and stripped the Church of its privileges. But this resurrection did not survive Julian’s death. After that humiliation the Christian Church insisted new emperors acted according to their dictates.

On November 8, 392 the emperor Theodosius (born Jan 11, AD 347), at the behest of Bishop Ambrose, completely prohibited the worship of the pagan gods (he also terminated the Olympic Games). A religious war ensued. At the battle of Frigidus River on September 5, 394 Theodosius defeated Eugenius and Arbogast, the leaders of the pagan revolt. Later Christian tradition essentially interpreted the victory as a divine judgment: the god of the Christians had triumphed over the old Roman gods. The Di Consentes, you will recall, had been introduced into Rome six hundred years earlier when the city was in danger of being captured by Hannibal. Rome had risen to extraordinary heights since then. Now the Twelve Gods were arbitrarily dismissed. Within twenty years Rome lay in ruins, sacked by Alaric and his Visigoths, the latest Emperor of Rome alive and well and living far away in Constantinople.

A related event was the prosecution of Priscillianism. Priscillian was an early Christian bishop who is infamous for being the first heretic to receive capital punishment. He was executed in 385. The unorthodox doctrine he founded, which included the belief that the Signs of the Zodiac were under the patronage of the twelve Patriarchs, persisted until either 561 or 563. In one of these years the Church Council of Braga in Spain pronounced an anathema, a formal ecclesiastical ban or excommunication, against Priscillianism and specifically included any who regarded the Signs of the Zodiac as being under the patronage of the twelve Patriarchs. With this formal denouncement of the heresy of Christianizing the pagan belief in the Olympians as protectors of the Zodiac, the 2,000-year-old month/Zodiac gods disappeared.

THE NEOPLATONISTS accepted the Twelve Gods, for them the Olympians controlled the universe. As the name implies this was a revival of Platonism, occurring in the third century A.D. The Neoplatonists themselves continued to flourish into the fifth century but their academy was closed in A.D. 529 by the Emperor Justinian, shortly before the Council of Braga. Thereafter the doctrine petered out as a form of mystical agnosticism.

Table 8: The Natures of the Twelve Gods

Creators Guards Life-givers Uplifters
Jupiter Vesta Ceres Mercury
Neptune Minerva Juno Venus
Vulcan Mars Diana Apollo

    The Twelve Gods were divided into four groups each of three (beginning, middle and end), as listed in Table 8. The creative and paternal gods make the universe, the life-givers give it life, uplifters harmonize it, and the guards preserve and protect it.[7]The natures of the Twelve Gods were explained as follows:

Jupiter has the highest place in the creative triad, setting in order souls and bodies, and being concerned with all things. Neptune completes the middle part of creation and especially governs the spiritual order, for he is the god who causes movement and all birth. The soul is the very first of the things produced and movement is according to being (e.g., plant, bird, fish, human). Finally, Vulcan inspires the nature of the bodies and makes all the gods’ seats in the universe.

Of the protective and unmoved triad, Vesta is first because she preserves the very existence of things and keeps their being undefiled. Minerva guards the intermediate creatures unswerving in intelligent and spontaneous life, lifting them up from matter. Mars shines power upon the creatures in bodily form.

Ceres rules the life giving, wholly producing all life in the universe, intellectual, spiritual and that inseparable from the body. Juno keeps the middle part, devoting herself to the production of the soul. For the intellectual goddess, Ceres, sent forth all the emanations of other spiritual entities from herself. Diana is allotted the end, arousing all the natural Logoi into activity and completing the self-sufficiency of matter.

Of the last, the uplifting or harmonizing triad, Mercury is leader of philosophy. Hence, through it he leads souls up and with his dialectical powers sends them, in whole and in part, up to the good itself. Venus is the prime-moving cause of the erotic inspiration pervading all things and adapts those lives led up by her to the beautiful. She is nude because her function, harmony, creates beauty and beauty is not concealed. Apollo through music completes all things and corrects all things, moving them all together, and drawing them through harmony and rhythm towards the intellectual truth and the light there.

In some lists Plouton replaces Vulcan. The Neoplatonists accepted the Twelve Gods as a legacy from Plato. They connected each Olympian with the planet or element usually associated with him or her. Demeter subsequently gave her place among the Twelve to Saturn, presumably because Kronos-Saturn was not an Olympian. Apollo and Artemis gave theirs to Helios and Selene (the Sun and Moon). Vesta represents earth, Neptune water, Juno air, and Vulcan fire.


IS THERE ANY relevance in all this to modern astrological practice? I believe there is. The assignment of twelve gods to each of the months clearly preceded the allocation of the Zodiac Signs among the same twelve Olympians. It was an earlier rulership scheme. When the Zodiac was defined each of the twelve month gods (automatically?) became protectors of a Zodiacal Sign. Later, or even at the same time, the seven planets were also related to the same twelve Signs. If we can understand something of how the original allocation occurred, and how and why it became changed to the one we all know, honor and obey, we may perhaps improve our understanding of the relationship between the seven planets and the twelve Signs. Much of what we do in astrology depends on this relationship.

The same sequence of the Twelve Gods appears in the Rustic Calendar, in Manilius and at the Altar at Gabii (see Table 5). While it is impossible to state this is actually the true, basic sequence, there is general agreement from the other sources about the placement of Vulcan, Jupiter and Venus.

The Altar at Gabii presented an interpretation problem in that photographs indicate the deities’ symbols are interspersed midway between each of the depicted Zodiac Signs (see Table 4). Mercury’s winged tortoise is halfway between the Sign of the twins and that of the crab. If we relate the symbol to the earlier Sign the allocation of the Rustic Calendar is confirmed, if it is associated with the later Sign then Manilius is confirmed.

The tortoise, like the crab, was a symbol for Cancer, the two creatures like the Sign are known for their hard shells; the wings on the tortoise indicate Mercury-Hermes is the guardian of the Sign. This points to the Manilius scheme.

The only other representations we have, those at Hellin, etc., agree Vulcan is the protector of September and/or Libra. Assuming this was also so at Gabii, we have further evidence that the symbol preceding the Zodiac Sign is the one that should be related to the Sign and that Gabii is an example of the Manilius rulership scheme. This suggests it is the Manilius version that became accepted rather than the one detailed in the Rustic Calendars.

Five sources relate the Olympian gods to the Signs of the Zodiac (see Table 5). If we ignore the Rustic Calendar, we have Venus consistently as the protector of Taurus, Jupiter of Leo, and Vulcan of Libra. From the standard pairings of the gods (shown in Table 2), we therefore expect Mars to be protector of Scorpio, the Sign opposite Venus’s; Juno to oppose Jupiter’s Sign; and Minerva to protect Aries, the Sign opposing Vulcan’s Libra.

Is there any apparent rationale in the original distribution of the twelve Olympians among the twelve months and Signs?

Aries and Librahad Athena-Minerva and Hephaestus-Vulcan as their guardian gods.

Athena-Minervais the goddess of wisdom. At her birth, we’re told she sprang from the head of Zeus clad in her armor, brandishing her lance, and giving her war cry. Although a martial goddess, her most characteristic attribute is her practical intelligence and she is the patroness, inspirer and teacher of all specialized workers and artists. Her chief traits are prudence and valor. She never goes to war unless forced and when she fights, always wins. Her emblem is the owl.

Hephaestus-Vulcanis the lame, ugly smith-magician, the archetypal artisan and shaman, the god of technological perfection who creates many wonderful things. He is also a deity of volcanic fire, which he uses in his forge. His emblems are his tongs and the quail, a bird that does a hobbling dance in springtime.

Aries symbolizes the head from which Athena sprang. The association of Hephaestus-Vulcan with Libra, a constant everywhere, is doubtless due to the forged Scales being the only manufactured object in the Zodiac. Ariel Guttman and Ken Johnson [8]astutely suggest that Athena and Hephaestus are paired because they were both born of a single parent, Athena from Zeus without any female intervention, Hephaestus from Hera without masculine input.

Taurus and Scorpiowere associated with Aphrodite-Venus and Ares-Mars.

Aphrodite-Venusis the goddess of sexuality, beauty and love. She puts desire into men and animals, and stimulates their sexual urge, physical love and fleshly union. She represents the power of attraction that binds people together. Her emblem is the dove.

Ares-Marsis simply the destructive, bullying god of war. He delights in slaying and looting. In myth nothing much is told of him, other than his affair with Venus. His emblems are a wild boar, the wolf, and a bloodstained spear.

We give the rulerships of these same two Signs to the planets named after this pair of gods.

Gemini and Sagittariuswere given to Apollo and his twin sister Artemis-Diana.

Apollorepresents both random and predictable illumination. He is the god of the Sun, and both a musician and an archer, the one indicating serenity, respect for law and order, and divine harmony; the other, mastery over distances and hence detachment from the ‘immediate’. He is the calm god of healing, of light, of intelligence, and of the arts, who keeps away evil and was associated with oracles and true prophecy. His message to humanity “Know thyself!” is a directive to universal understanding. His emblem is the mouse and a tripod.

Artemis-Dianais the goddess of the Moon. Early Christians considered her their major rival; the Gospels commanded the total destruction of all her temples. She is the patroness of the hunt, of hunters, wild animals and young girls. She is the goddess of chastity who represents untouchedness, and is indifferent to love. She presides over childbirth and, like her brother Apollo, is a skilled archer, never seen without a quiver of arrows and her bow. Her emblem, the she-bear, commemorates the most dangerous wild animal in ancient Greece.

The connection of twins and archery to Gemini-Sagittarius is obvious.

Cancer and Capricornwere given to a pair of gods that seem completely opposite to each other in their natures: Hermes-Mercury and Hestia-Vesta.

Hermes-Mercuryis the cleverest of the gods, the trickster-god of ruse and double-dealing, of theft and nocturnal amorous adventures. He is also the astute companion of man, the unrivaled giver of good things, who protects the flocks, herds and roads, and is patron of trade, merchants, bankers and fortune-tellers. He is the go-between: the herald and messenger of the gods, and guide to the dead. Philosophers identified him with the divine intelligence, the Logos; Church Fathers compared him to Christ; and alchemists (the Hermeticists) of the Renaissance considered him the archetypal catalyst. His emblems are the crane, his winged sandals and the caduceus.

Hestia-Vestanever leaves Olympus. She is the stay-at-home protector of the home and hearth, goddess of the family and peace; she is relied on to always be there at the center of the world. Her flame burns continually, representing light, warmth and security. Because of her kindness, she was the most venerated of the deities. Her emblem is the lamp.

Vesta’s time of the year (we now call it Christmas) continues to be celebrated today as a festival of lights. Mercury’s guardianship of Cancer is not so strange as we may initially think: people with this Sign rising at birth are often great travelers, and with Cancer being the twelfth Sign of the Greek Zodiac and so associated with the end of things, i.e. with death, Hermes-Mercury, as the Olympian responsible for guiding souls into the underworld, the psychopomp, is the appropriate guardian.

Leo and Aquariuswere allocated to Zeus-Jupiter and his consort Hera-Juno.

Zeus-Jupiteris the uncontested chief of the gods, the absolute master of the universe. He is the All-Father, the supreme deity, who populated the heavens and earth by his promiscuous liaisons. He is sometimes called Jove, and the Jews and Christians know him as Jehovah. He represents prudence and order dominant over all. He is the grand dispenser of justice. His emblems are the eagle and the thunderbolt.

Hera-Juno, the jealous wife and sister of the supreme deity, is pre-eminently the goddess of marriage and childbirth, and hence of the perpetuation of the race. Her emblems are the cow, the lion and the peacock.

Leo has always been considered the pre-eminent Sign of the universal ruler. The Greek new year began when the Sun went into the Sign. Leo is also associated with Cybele, the Mother of the Universe. Fixed Fire is the strongest, most absolute combination of mode and element; it is the Sign of the actualized potential, of the ‘I am’. Leo could only be given to the supreme god. His consort then automatically has the opposite Sign of Aquarius.

Virgo and Pisceswent to Demeter-Ceres and Poseidon-Neptune.

Demeter-Ceres is the law-giver and the goddess of agriculture and fertility. She is also, in her association with Pluto (see the myth of Persephone/Kore), goddess of the Mysteries. These involve the cyclical destiny of vegetation: birth, life, death, and rebirth. The Mysteries taught that man’s life is like the life of cereals, strength and perenniality are accessible through death. The dead return to Mother Earth (De-meter= the mother), with the hope of sharing the destiny of the sown seed. Her emblems are a basket and the poppy, which grows red as blood among the barley.

Poseidon-Neptuneis the Sea; the wrathful, moody lord of the ocean. As husband of the earth, he was the earth-shaker, maker of earthquakes. His emblems are dolphins, the horse and his trident.

Virgo is associated with the fixed star Spica, the Ear of Wheat, and Demeter-Ceres is the goddess of cereals. Poseidon-Neptune is the sea god and Pices is the Sign of the sea. This pairing makes sense when we recall that Poseidon is the husband of the Earth and that Demeter-Ceres is the goddess of the Earth.

There appear to be perfectly good mythic reasons for the allocation of the Twelve Gods to each of the twelve Signs of the Zodiac. However, the essential natures of the seven planetary gods and their subsequent relationships with the twelve Signs of the Zodiac should have been detected very differently. One would expect the natures of the planetary seven to have been discovered from observations over time, from their effects on life noted at culminations and risings, empirically. These planetary natures would then in turn be allied with those Zodiac Signs exhibiting similar attributes. I believe this happened only in part.

IN GREECE, the attribution of god-natures to the planets themselves was slow in its full development. Following Plato’s earlier suggestions, the directing force seems to have been the Epinomis written in the 4th century B.C. by Philip of Opus, who had been Plato’s secretary in his old age This stated that the planets must be gods, as the Egyptians and Babylonians had known for a very long time, and the Greeks should accept this knowledge and religion, after improving it. While paying due reverence to the ancient gods, according to venerable traditions, the cult of the visible gods, the celestial bodies, should become the state religion. By the eternal accuracy of their motion, the planets reveal they are themselves gods, each planet regulating its own motion with divine intelligence and repeating it eternally to evidence its own wisdom.[9]

The astrological religion first advocated in the Epinomis gradually evolved into the highest religion in the pagan world. The old gods were still worshipped, but their mythological adventures were increasingly seen as childish and immoral; thinking people considered astrology highly rational and most members of the intellectual elite viewed it as a science.

The Greeks initially knew the planets by expressive terms which mostly related to their brightness, such as Phainon for Saturn, Phaethon (Jupiter), Pyroeis (Mars), Phosphoros (Venus), Stilbon (Mercury). The last word, which means Flasher or Twinkler, was used for Mercury by Eudoxos and Aristotle. These same names for the planets were still being used in the interpretation of a horoscope dated to 81 A.D.[10]

We can safely assume the early Greek astrologers did not start from scratch. From the fourth century B.C. on, by virtue of Alexander’s conquests, they were in close contact with their counterparts in Babylon and Egypt, who possessed “a millennia” of observations. Theophrastus, the successor of Aristotle who died in 322 B.C., is reported as saying that the Chaldeans were able to predict, in his time, not only the weather from the heavens but also life and death of all persons. The Greeks must therefore have been able to obtain from others an inventory of the attributes that could be associated with each of the seven planets.

They will have learnt, for example, that their Pyroeis was the same planet the Babylonians called Nergal, and that Nergal with his red fire color and his movement by leaps, had been identified as a bloody and capricious tyrant, the enemy of man, a planet which when seen in certain places in the sky was liable to throw all nature into perturbation. The Greeks will have recognized the flamboyant Nergal or Pyroeis as being similar in nature to their own god of war. So Pyroeis became known as ‘Pyroeis the Star of Ares’.

Marduk, the name given by the Babylonians to their chief god, could only be Zeus; there was only the one supreme god. Marduk was associated with the planet the Greeks knew as Phaethon. Astrologically, ‘Phaethon the Star of Zeus’ merged the supremacy of the Olympian, Father of Gods and Man, with the astrological aspect of a God of the Atmosphere.

Aphrodite and Ishtar were different names for the same goddess of love and pleasure. Phosphoros accordingly was the Star of Aphrodite, though the planet continued to be known as the Dawn or Dusk Star, the one who glowed in the dark like phosphorous.

The Babylonian Nabu, like Hermes, was an astute and tricky schemer and enterpriser, he was also eloquent and a stimulator of the arts. The Greeks knew the planet Nabu as Stilbon; so the twinkling planet close to the Sun, which moves quickly and is always turning and twisting backwards and forwards, became the Star of Hermes.

The planet Ninib had a dull, livid look and moved slowly: this was the planet the Greeks knew as Phainon and who the Babylonians associated with a prudent, grave, and melancholy old man, indifferent to human fates and even a little malevolent. That description didn’t match any member of the Olympian gang of twelve, but it did identify Kronos, the exiled father of Zeus, Poseidon, Hera and Plouton. Phainon became the Star of Kronos. Because of his age the Greek astrologers gave him a sort of primacy; but also through ancient associations with the moment of sowing, he was thought to possess a generating virtue – though paternity did not at all suit his years.

Another 200 years or so elapsed before the planets finally adopted their new identities and became known simply as Kronos, Zeus, Ares, etc. By his use of the old planetary names, the astrologer who cast the 81 A.D. horoscope may be telling us the approximate date when the changeover occurred. All known horoscopes after this time use the new planetary nomenclature.

Although the astrologers did not attempt to link the planets with the various myths told of the deities, they do appear to have drawn on the mythology of the essential character of each chosen deity, the complex of associations roused by the name.

These associations of a god with a planet and the character that god had developed appear to have been accepted by the Greeks as scientific axioms from which to deduce the sort of influence that the planet exerted. Like the gods, the planets were seen as beings with will, sex and strong emotions. Their living natures were reflected in the terms early astrologers used about them. They could see, hear, rejoice, grieve, were gay or sad, obeyed or didn’t, were sympathetic or not, and they were even said to bear spears which, on the appropriate occasions, they would hurl.

THE ALLOCATION of the seven planets among the twelve Signs, 7-into-12, has each of the five true planets receiving rulership of two Signs apiece and the remaining two Signs ruled by the lights. The sequence of planetary rulers probably relates to the apparent daily motion of the planets.[11]Thus the slowest, Saturn is at one end and the quickest, the Moon at the other, and the sequence goes Saturn-Jupiter-Mars-Venus-Mercury-Moon on one side, and returns Sun-Mercury-Venus-Mars-Jupiter-Saturn on the other.

This rulership scheme is very different from the age-old association of the Twelve Gods to the months and the Signs of the Zodiac. Can we assume the old system that gave a god guardianship over a month was not also arbitrary, but had developed over time? There is evidence that in different countries gods with similar attributes guarded the same month: for example, Vulcan and his name-sakes was everywhere associated with September and the Sign Libra. These venerable allocations were apparently ignored when the seven planets were given rulership over the twelve Signs. Why?

Are the planets most effective, most true to their essential natures when placed in the Signs the 7-into-12 system has them rule? Are these allocations based on observations of the affects in life of the planets when in the different Signs?

Or was this an elegant exercise in planetary symmetry, the creation of some Pythagorean astronomer? Was it a theoretical exercise in how things should be – there was a strong belief among the Greeks in the primacy of numbers and harmonics? Were everyday manifestations in life simply ignored, considered only inadequate shadows of a true reality?

Given this 7-into-12 rulership approach is to be adopted, which is the anchor Sign, where does the sequence begin?

Leo contained the star Regulus, which the Babylonians knew as Sharru, the King. In India Regulus was Magha, the Mighty, and in Persia it was Miyan, the Center, the leader of the Four Royal Stars of the ancient Persian monarchy, the Four Guardians of Heaven. Throughout the ancient world these four royal stars (the other three were Aldebaran, Antares and Fomalhaut), they are each about six hours apart in right ascension, were used to mark the four quarters of the heavens. At the time this quartering was probably first thought of, Reguluslay very near the summer solstice.

The Greeks will have known about the royal star in Leo, the first Sign of their year.

In astrology the Sun rules Leo, while Jupiter is ruler of Sagittarius and Pisces. The Olympian Jupiter-Zeus was originally the protector of Leo because, presumably, his attributes and those of the Sign coincided. The Olympian Zeus-Jupiter is the supreme god and Leo contains Regulus, the celestial throne reserved for the god of gods. In astrology, however, the Sunas the source of life is considered superior to all of the planets, including Jupiter. The Sun, not Jupiter, must therefore rule this fixed fire Sign.

At some time in the distant past a complicated game of celestial musical chairs took place. It may have gone as follows:

First, the Sun takes over Leo and forces out Jupiter-Zeus. Then the Moon, as the supreme female planet, takes Juno’s place, not Diana’s. June is Juno’s month [12]in which Cancer begins, so the moon becomes ruler of Cancer. By having the Moon rule Cancer, the Olympian moon goddess, Diana-Artemis, automatically looses her guardianship of Sagittarius and is forced out of the circle. At the same time Mercury-Hermes must make room for the Moon, so he moves next door to Gemini, the Sign vacated by the Apollo when the Sun assumed rulership of Leo. The planet Jupiter now cannot simply switch places with the sun god Apollo but instead replaces the moon goddess Diana-Artemis as ruler of Sagittarius.

And no doubt there are a dozen other possible scenarios.

We now have, for the planetary gods, Venus ruling Taurus (no change), Mercury as the new ruler of Gemini, Diana (the Moon) as the new ruler of Cancer, the Sun in his rightful place ruling Leo, Mars as the ruler of Scorpio (no change), and the planet Jupiter ruling Sagittarius. That’s six of the seven. Saturn wasn’t an Olympian, he might logically have replaced Ceres-Demeter, the Olympian guardian of Virgo – he was originally the Roman god of agriculture – but that would have disrupted the rulership symmetry involving the varying daily motions of the planets. Saturn has the slowest daily motion of all so he was given rulership of the Signs furthest from the Sun and Moon, those previously ruled by the Olympians Vesta-Hestia and Juno-Hera. The remaining Signs then automatically receive their rulers according to the daily motion scheme, and the Olympians who were not also planetary gods vacate the Zodiacal circle.

This all leaves some interesting questions. The change in rulership of Leo is understandable. But are there any real, interpretation-affecting, empirical reasons for the other changes? Were these made only to create a rulership scheme that was symmetrical about the two Lights?

Of course, it’s not entirely impossible that the seven planetary rulerships preceded the allocation of the twelve Olympians as guardians of the Signs. The hypothesized series of rulership/guardian moves will then have happened in reverse. Might then the planetary rulership scheme be based on past evidence from life of the varying effects of planets in different Signs? As a 20th Century astrologer, this is how I would prefer it to have happened. But if it did, how did the set of Twelve Olympians’ guardianships (the one presumably known and accepted by the Greek masses) get to be so very different? Is this an indication that early astrological knowledge was esoteric, hidden like the mystery religions from the uninitiated? Was knowledge of astrology only available to a privileged few?

The more I consider it, the less likely it seems that the planetary rulership scheme preceded that of the Twelve Gods. There is ample evidence to show the Twelve Gods had been guardians of the months a thousand years before the Zodiac was first split into its Signs. And going from month rulership to Sign rulership is such a simple, obvious step, even if there was some doubt in how best to allocate the month god to the Zodiac Sign: whether the guardian of the month should be related to the Sign occupying most of the month or to the one starting during the month, as we have seen in the contrast between the Rustic Calendar and the guardian scheme of Manilius. The twelve month-rulers came first, later they became the twelve Sign rulers.

There are, however, major differences involving the Sign ruled by a planet and those under the protection of the god with the same name.

If the astrological Sun is the Olympian Jupiter-Zeus, which planet is related to the Olympian Apollo ? Is it the planet Jupiter?

Can any of the mythological attributes of the Olympian Zeus-Jupiter be related to the planet Jupiter? Should all be related to the Sun?

The astrologers gave Apollo’s Sign Gemini to Mercury, when his Olympian namesake Mercury-Hermes was displaced from Cancer by the Moon. Apollo and Mercury are connected in myth – shortly after Mercury’s birth (as Hermes) he stole Apollo’s cattle and later he made and gave Apollo the lyre with which the god of the sun charmed the listening world. Is the planetary Mercury a composite of two Olympians, Mercury-Hermes and Apollo? What should we make of the tantalizing statement in Pliny: “The planet next to Venus is Mercury, called by some Apollo.” (my italics) ? [13]

Now the Moon rules Cancer, the old Sign of Hermes-Mercury. Does this mean the Moon assumed her predecessor’s duties of psychopomp, did she become the guide of souls into the underworld after death?

If the Olympian Juno-Hera is the astrological Moon, which planet should we relate to the Olympian moon goddess, Diana-Artemis ?

THE ALLOCATION of the Signs to the planets appears to have been an exercise in planetary symmetry, without regard for the corresponding natures of the planets or the Signs.

Readers may respond by saying: “OK, so perhaps the initial allocation of planet to Sign did not reflect life experience, but astrologers have been using the scheme for 2,000-years or so, and in the process have made it work.”

Have they? Does this rulership scheme really work? Sign rulerships are an essential part of Horary astrology, for instance. Is this branch of astrology as effective as its practitioners claim? We hear of their successes, many of which are often due to planets in the Horary chart being close to angles or to the Moon’s next aspects and so not requiring use of the ring-a-rosy rulership system of querent, dispositor, etc. But what of the many failures?

Nearly fifty years ago, a Mr. Ionides, the author of One Day Telleth Another (I don’t have the author’s first name or the book’s publisher), suggested the 12-fold division of the ecliptic “was not natural at all, but had been imposed upon Nature by man’s belief in them and have so acquired a certain validity.” Discussing this, Charles E. O. Carter [14], an astrologer for whom I continue to have the utmost respect, commented:

    In other words, let man believe a thing long enough and strongly enough and Nature, so to speak, accepts it from him. Thought, being essentially and always positive, can work upon the passiveanima mundi

and mould this to its will.     If this notion has any basis in fact, then its practical (as well as theoretical) importance would be considerable. We should certainly, in that case, do well to foster in ourselves the highest possible conceptions of the planets….     We should have to distinguish, in the case of such a planet as Neptune, anatural

quality and animpressed

quality. The former might cover such Neptunian tendencies as poetic inspiration, interest in the occult, and the propensity to states of confusion and involvement, confinement and retirement, none of which appears to have any connection with the mythological Neptune, while the latter would include all relationships with the sea, which would be invested with validity because astrologers, learning that the planet was to be called Neptune, immediately combined to think of it in terms of that god.     The proof would be, what did Neptune Signify in the horoscopes of those who lived before it was discovered? Did only the ‘natural’ meaning appear, or did what I call the ‘impressed’ Significance also manifest itself? Because, according to the hypothesis I have, very tentatively, put forward, the latter Significance could not be there.     I know that Neptune was in transit upon King James’s ascendant at the time of the Gunpowder Plot, exhibiting the ‘treachery aspect’ of Neptune, which is not, I think, at all mythological.     Uranus does not convey any distinct mythological conception to the average man, and perhaps that has allowed us to preserve in more or less pure form its natural qualities. But Pluto does most certainly mean something even to those whose studies in mythology have been strictly limited and it is true that most of us are, so to speak, hard at work trying to make him into a planet of death and darkness.    If man’s belief makes something so, then surely it will be the belief of the majority of humankind that does. Believers in astrology have been relatively few since the days when a much larger proportion of the world’s population believed, and had done so for hundreds of years, in the existence and natures of the Twelve Gods.

I’m reminded that in the 1830s a French physician determined that people who became ill during a cholera epidemic died or recovered at the same rate whether they were treated by a doctor or not. That awkward discovery forced the medical community to study itself, to look for things that worked and things that did not, and along the way changed medicine from a trade into a scientific art.

OBVIOUSLY which planet rules which Sign need not be sacrosanct, even if the system we’ve been using has been around for a long time. If the age of a belief were our criterion for deciding between alternatives we’d all believe we lived on a flat world about which the rest of the universe revolved. Nor can the theoretical elegance of a scheme be our guide. Astrology is about the affect of the planets and the Signs as these are reflected in life.

Perhaps we should consider in which Signs the different planets are strongest. For example, Capricorn might be given to Mercury, he is stronger there than in any Sign: it can be a position of real mental ability and fluent expression – Mercury can certainly be capricious. And perhaps the rulership of Virgo could go to Saturn. But over and beyond which planet rules which Sign, let’s consider just what this all says about the basic principles of the seven classical bodies.

The planet Mercury, for example, does not necessarily have the same attributes as the Olympian god of the same name. Natives of Cancer, the Sign associated with the Olympian, do travel a lot (often more than natives of Sagittarius), usually as tourists or for business purposes, but it is difficult to associate the astrological Mercury with the Sign of Cancer in the way the Olympian Mercury-Hermes was. At least, not as we nowadays interpret either the planet or the Sign. In myth Mercury-Hermes was the messenger of the gods. He was also said to possess the other attributes listed a couple of pages back.

Like each of the gods, the Olympian Mercury-Hermes was an Idea to the Greeks, a primary concept, the personified essence of something, a Platonic Form or archetype. While we presumably interpret a planet by generalizing from observed particulars, the gods were considered completely opposite: Mercury-Hermes represented, among other things, the transcendent first principle of exchange. He was the archetypal trader (and the archetypal messenger). Any business transaction was simply a localized manifestation of the absolute archetypal Form of Exchange.

The association of Mercury with trading and exchange has continued in our language to the modern day. There are ninety-two words in the Oxford English Dictionary that begin with the letters MERC. Fifty-two of these words relate to trading and commerce: doing something for profit, reward or self-interest. These include such as Merchant, Mercenary, Mercantile, Mercer and Merchandise. I included the archaic Merchet: “a fine paid by a tenant or bondsman to his overlord for liberty to give his daughter in marriage.” A frequent modern meaning of Merc-words involves the chemical substitution (or trading) of one element for another.

Nowadays our texts largely ignore Mercury’s relationship with exchange, commerce or trading, the emphasis is increasingly to associate the planet with communication. Check any modern-day textbook.

There’s unlikely to be a problem here with the astrological nature of Saturn, he wasn’t an Olympian and there’s no detailed myth to explain his nature. The same should apply to the three recently discovered planets. It probably does to Uranus though, like Charles Carter, I’m less certain about the meanings generally ascribed to the planets Neptune and Pluto.

The problem, if there is one, may be quite new, having evolved only in recent years. This century there has been what many consider to have been a major conceptual step forward in how we consider the planets. We now view them as entities in their own right, very much in the same way that Plato and the early Greeks viewed the Twelve Gods, as archetypes. It has only been recently that we have begun to speak of Saturn as the principle of limitation and restriction or Mercury as the principle of communication. Astrologers of the 19th century would not have understood what this meant.

I admit to being bothered that expositions of several of the planetary principles on which so much of today’s astrology is based often seem as if they were lifted directly out of Homer. The problem comes when, in our astrologizing, we think Mercury (or Venus or Mars, etc.) and start freely associating, bringing into our minds all we have read in the past involving entities with the same name. Before we realize it the old stories of the god dashing about in winged sandals begin to influence how we view the planet.

Those who use asteroids are particularly prone to this form of mythic extrapolation. One wonders how some textbooks would read had Haley’s Comet been given a name from myth, Ulysses perhaps, and Chiron been named Kowal after its discoverer.

Thank goodness, the better astrologers do not do this.

We have to carefully examine not only what we believe astrology is, but also who we are and how we view the world in which we live. Do we actually accept the concept, as did the early Greeks and the later Neoplatonists, that there is a multiplicity of gods or primary Ideas – archetypes if you prefer, though in a Platonic sense not Jungian. Each of these gods was believed to possess a quality of being, a degree of reality superior to anything that could occur in the everyday world. The Greeks believed the gods were the true reality and all anyone ‘down below’ could possibly be or experience was simply an expression, a shadow of that more fundamental existence. Richard Tarnas [15]describes it well:

What is perceived as a particular object in the world can best be understood as a concrete expression of a more fundamental Idea, an archetype which gives that object its special structure and condition…. Something is ‘beautiful’ to the exact extent that the archetype of Beauty is present in it. When one falls in love, it is Beauty (or Aphrodite) that one recognizes and surrenders to, the beloved object being Beauty’s instrument or vessel.    If that is indeed our approach to life, then perhaps we also view Venus as ‘the planet of Venus-Aphrodite’, Mercury as ‘the planet of Mercury-Hermes’, and so forth; the astrological planets and the Zodiacal Signs as vehicles for the outflowing of these archetypal essences into our world, and the natal horoscope a record of the God-given gifts with which a child is born.

Nothing wrong with that, it’s a delightful concept and largely consistent with much of modern astrology. And it is appropriate that astrologers with such an approach should utilize the mythic attributes of Mercury-Hermes and the other gods in interpreting how the planets manifest in life.

But maybe the astrologer has a different view of life, one that does not accept the continued validity of the Olympian Twelve into the present century, one that rejects the notion that the basis of reality exists in an entirely transcendent and immaterial realm of ideal entities, one that says many things can be beautiful without the need of a transcendent Idea of Beauty. What then? Is Mercury to continue as a celestial messenger boy in the charts this astrologer reads? If so, should Libra, Vulcan’s old haunt, be interpreted as the Sign of technology?

Confirming our understanding of the basic meanings of the original seven planets is not so simple. When Uranus, Neptune and Pluto were discovered, four methods seem to have been used to discover the meaning of these new planets, to find out what each indicated in the birth chart. In order of their actual importance in the process, these were:

  • 1. Events in the world coincident with their discovery,
  • 2. Indications of their attributes from myth,
  • 3. Association with the Zodiacal Sign the planet was thought to rule (the interpretation frequently given to Pluto, for example, is rarely more than an expansion on the meaning of Scorpio), and
  • 4. Observation of the affect of the planet in the horoscope: when both angular and unaspected in a chart, when progressed to an angle, when transited by a planet whose nature we know, etc.

Of these four possibilities, only the last method is available for confirming the meanings of the seven classical bodies.

For completeness, mention should be made of the exaltations and the recently rediscovered Sect rulerships. The Sect rulership scheme, in which certain planets have rulership of the Sign triplicities in a day chart and other planets these rulerships in nocturnal charts, is merely an extension of the 7-into-12 scheme. These Sect rulerships are really dignities. The allocation of which planet has the diurnal or nocturnal rulership of a triplicity is derived from a combination of the standard Sign rulerships and the exaltations.[16] The simplest of the several Sect schemes [17]is:

Triplicity Day Ruler Night Ruler
Fire Sun Jupiter
Earth Venus Moon
Air Saturn Mercury
Water Mars & Venus Mars & Moon

    Cyril Fagan demonstrated that the exaltations of the planets are their sidereal longitudes at their heliacal risings and settings in 786 B.C. If he is correct, the Sun in 19º Aries, Mars in 28° Capricorn, etc., are not degrees or Signs (whether measured in the sidereal or tropical Zodiac) the planetary body necessarily occupied in charts where it is known to have been strong in the life. Nonetheless, our textbooks continue to inform us that, for example, the Sun is strong in Aries where he is exalted and weak in Libra. Is this from practical experience or theory? Perhaps we should be cleaning house, like the medics of the 1830s, and like them looking for what works and what does not. Along the way, we might duplicate their success and change astrology into a true scientific art.

If there is one thing this investigation into the early rulerships of the Zodiacal Signs has shown me, it is that there is a great need for caution; we need to be shy about what we accept in our reading, coy in how we expand and use the symbolism of the planets and the Signs they are said to rule.


[1]  See George Sarton. History of Science Vol. I, Ancient Science Through the Golden Age of Greece. 1952. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press. « Text

[2]  The two hippopotami represented the sixth and seventh months of the Egyptian year.  As the Egyptian year began with the heliacal rising of Sirius in the middle of our July, these aquatic creatures were associated with the months we now relate to the ‘watery’ Zodiac Signs Capricorn and Aquarius (before becoming simply a goat Capricorn was a seagoat or water antelope, much like a hippo). « Text

[3]  See Rees, Alwyn & Brinley Rees. Celtic Heritage. 1961. p.397. « Text

[4]  Cippus Colotianus: Naples, National Museum, inv. no. 2632. « Text

[5]  Charlotte R. Long. The Twelve Gods of Greece and Rome. 1987. The Netherlands: E. J. Brill. « Text

[6]  A Pileus was a round, brimless skullcap. « Text

[7]  Proclus (5th century A.D.). In Platonis Theologium Libri Sex (ed. A. Portus, Hamburg-Frankfurt, 1618, reprinted Frankfurt-am-Main, 1960). « Text

[8]  Ariel Guttman & Kenneth Johnson. Mythic Astrology. 1993. Llewelyn. « Text

[9]  Quoted in George Sarton. Ancient Greece Through the Golden Age. 1952. Harvard University Press. pp. 451-454. Dover edition. « Text

[10]  Neugebauer, O. & H. B. Van Hoesen. Greek Horoscopes. 1959. pp. 21-28. « Text

[11]  An acknowledged expert on classical astrology, Dr. George Noonan (private correspondence 9/96), suggests the rulerships came about otherwise: “Two thousand years ago the rising of Leo signaled the beginning of the hottest time of the year in the region of the Eastern Mediterranean.  The Sun was highest in the zenith at this period too.  Therefore, Leo was given to the Sun as its domicile.  The classicist believed the relative brightness of a celestial body (‘apparent magnitude’ in modern astronomy) to be directly proportional to its warmth; hence Cancer was given to the Moon as its house because the next warmest month was heralded by the rising of that Sign.  Saturn, being farthest from the Sun, and hence the coldest planet, was given the Signs marking the coldest months: Capricorn and Aquarius.  According to Ptolemy, the houses of the other planets were assigned according to their relationship to Saturn in the then ‘scientific’ concept of the solar system.”     Whether it was the planets’ brightness (I do wonder about the relative placement of Mercury and Venus as the latter is the brightest object in the sky after the two lights) or their daily motion, the end result was planetary rulerships which are very different from those of the Twelve Gods. « Text

[12]  Perhaps the relation of the Twelve Gods to the twelve Zodiac Signs was not completely ignored in the 7-to-12 allocation of planets to Signs. The month of June is clearly named after the goddess Juno, and March after Mars. Juno-Hera at one time was considered the goddess protector of Cancer, which Sign begins in June, instead of Mercury; and Mars-Ares not Minerva-Athena was the patron of Aries, which Sign begins in March (the two names Ares and Aries are much too similar to ignore). « Text

[13]  Pliny. Natural History, Book II. « Text

[14]  Editorial in Astrology, volume 22, number 2, June-August 1948, pp.37-38. « Text

[15]  Richard Tarnas. The Passion of the Western World. 1991. NY: Ballantine Books. p.6. « Text

[16]  Rob Hand provides a clear explanation of this scheme in his 1995 monograph Night & Day, Planetary Sect in Astrology. The Golden Hind Press. « Text

[17]  From Ptolemy, Tetrabiblios I, 18. « Text

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Ken Gillman: Twelve Gods and Seven Planets ———————– All rights reserved © 1996-2001 Ken Gillman


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