Zodiac signs get a lot of attention in the astrology world — after all, the only thing you need to know to read your daily horoscope is your Sun sign. But the world of astrology is big, bright, and beautiful, and if you want to know what the stars are really trying to communicate, you need to have an idea about what planets mean in astrology. It's not breaking news that planets are a thing in the astrology world — after all, interpreting the movement of the planets and other celestial bodies through the sky (and zodiac) is exactly what astrology is. But understanding the planets will help you make more sense of things like your Sun and Moon signs, and you'll be better clued in the next time someone's ranting about Mercury going retrograde again, or how Venus relates to their love life.
You're probably already familiar with the planets of our lil' old solar system (shout out to elementary school science teachers around the world), but have a seat back at your desk, because planets in astrology are defined a little differently than what you learned in school. Firstly, in astrology, the Sun and the Moon are both considered planets and are referred to as the "luminaries." Of course, we know these aren't planets in the astronomical sense — the Sun is actually a star and the Moon is, well, a moon — but they are vitally important celestial bodies in astrology. Also, in astrology, Pluto is still a planet, too. While astronomers may have demoted it to a mere dwarf planet a few years back, in astrology land it's still a full-fledged planet — and it's just as powerful. The last major difference is that we'll scratch the Earth from the list of planets in astrology — because we live on it, and because astrology takes an Earth-centric view of the cosmos. All in all, that makes for 10 major planets.
In astrology, each of the planets represent a different set of qualities and characteristics, and rule over a different part of our lives — each bringing with them their own unique vibes and directives. You can think of the planets as characters, each with different goals, interests, and jobs. Everyone has the same 10 major planets in their astrological birth chart, but they express themselves totally differently based on the zodiac sign they're located in.
As mentioned, the Sun and Moon are known as the luminaries, while Mercury, Venus, and Mars are known as "inner planets." Both the luminaries and the inner planets "move" (from our vantage point here on Earth, anyway) relatively quickly from sign to sign, and therefore have more of an influence over day-to-day, shorter-term issues. Jupiter and Saturn come next, and they're sometimes known as the "social planets" or "transpersonal planets," given that they govern areas of our lives that relate to interpersonal issues. Some people may categorize these two giants as either inner or outer planets, too, since they fall just in the middle. Finally, we reach the "outer planets," which officially include Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. These babies move more slowly through the zodiac chart, therefore influencing larger, more grand-scheme parts of your life and self, as well as society as a whole. And when someone refers to a planet as "benefic," it refers to their association with bringing really good vibes (Jupiter and Venus are known as benefics). Conversely, "malefic" planets, such as Saturn and Mars, are known for having tougher, more destructive energy (although we love and need them nonetheless!).
In order to know how the planets affect us, well, that all depends on where they're located in the zodiac at any given time. Planets travel through different zodiac signs as they move through the sky, and their energy plays out differently depending on what sign they're in — kind of like putting a filter over a photo. If you want to know where your natal planets are, you'll have to check out your birth chart (you can draw yours up online if you have your exact birth time, or consult a professional astrologer to help). Once you know where each of the planets lives in your personal chart (which includes 12 astrological houses, as well as 12 zodiac signs that overlap with said houses), you'll be able to look at how you express their energy, what parts of your life they show up in, and even examine the relationships between the planets, known as aspects. So planets themselves don't cause anything to happen — it's more about where they're placed and how they interact with other parts of your chart.
Let's take a quick trip through the galaxy and get to know each of the major players.
Planet of: the self; the conscious mind; creative energy; life purpose; the truest and purest version of ~you~.
Naturally rules: Leo
The Sun is the center of our universe, and in astrology, it represents the center of ourselves. It's what lights up and gives color to the world around us; it's the star that we revolve around and that gives us life. That's part of why our Sun signs are such an integral part of our astrology and who we are! "The Sun represents our ego, what we are driven to do, our life-force," astrologer Lisa Stardust tells Bustle. The Sun is the driving force behind who we are at our core, and it's said that people who can embrace their Sun placement tend to feel happier and more fulfilled. We have many influences in our astrological charts, but the Sun is perhaps the most integral to our persona and our spirit.
Planet of: emotions; instincts; feminine energy; security; all the emo poetry you wrote in your journal in high school.
Naturally rules: Cancer
The gentle, emotion-driven moon is the sensitive, empathetic, nurturing, and nostalgic mother-figure of the zodiac. "The Moon represents our inner emotions, the parts within us that we cannot express," Stardust says. "It also represents our maternal side, our mother, our memories, and even what foods we enjoy." The Moon governs over the shadowy, more vulnerable sides of ourselves — the parts we may not show to others unless we feel intimate and safe with them — as well as the things we need to feel protected, comfortable, and emotionally secure.
Planet of: communication; expression; reason; intellect; your ability to carry on six different coherent conversations at once.
Naturally rules: Gemini & Virgo
You probably know this planet more for its infamous retrograde periods than anything else, but actually, when it's not turning everything in your life upside, this quick-witted master of communication, timing, and intellect is really cool. "Mercury affects how we communicate, transmit information, and travel," astrologer Caitlin McGarry tells Bustle. Mercury is known as the messenger of the gods, so it makes sense that communication, information sharing, and traveling is its jam. This planet tells us a lot about our personal communication style, as well as the way we process information and manage our time and schedule.
Planet of: love; romance; beauty; pleasure; hearts n' chocolates n' flowers.
Naturally rules: Taurus & Libra
Ah, lovely Venus, planet of all things flowery and sensual and heart-flutteringly delicious. Named after the goddess of love herself, Venus loves to love, and to be immersed in the aestheticism and beauty of the world. Venus is also associated with money — specifically the money we spend more frivolously on things that bring us pleasure and joy. "Venus is the lesser benefic, [and] represents love affairs, romance, luxury, fine wines and rich food," Stardust says. "Venus also represents self esteem and money." Planet Venus is sort of like the Valentine's Day of the planets — think a romantic evening full of chocolates, wine, red rose petals, and a sweetly-scented bubble bath. It's about the way you love, how you determine value, and the ways you experience (and indulge in) sensual pleasure and luxury.
Planet of: action; sexual drive; aggression; raw energy; losing your temper on the next person who triggers you.
Naturally rules: Aries
Wild n' fiery Mars, named after the god of war, is determined, driven, and full of raw, unbridled, animalistic energy. "Mars represents how we fight and assert ourselves," McGarry says. Additionally, Mars also shows us how we chase our goals and relates to our libidos and sexual energies, too. The so-called Red Planet certainly lives up to it's name with it's red-hot intensity and passion. And you may have heard "men are from Mars, women are from Venus," right? Well, we actually all have a nice balance of both, so while sexy romance is Venus' territory, Mars rules over our more animalistic sexual drive and desire. Venus is the butterflies in our stomach and emotion, while Mars is the primal, physical instinct.
Planet of: good luck; abundance; optimism; expansiveness; everything coming up roses and then some.
Naturally rules: Sagittarius
Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system, and it also carries with it the biggest load of luck, positivity, and optimism of the bunch, bringing growth, opportunity, and good vibes along with its massive presence. "Jupiter, the greater benefic, represents luck, growth, travel, philosophy, education, teaching, and expansion," Stardust says. Jupiter also helps us to broaden our horizons and expand our minds through education, life experiences, and spirituality. This is the planet that inspires us to chase our dreams, no matter how lofty.
Planet of: boundaries; tough love; life lessons; discipline; questioning everything you've ever done in your life in a depressing, critical angst.
Naturally rules: Capricorn
If the Moon is our cosmic mom, then Saturn is totally our cosmic father figure. Think of this planet as the stern parent who's a little overly rigid, old-fashioned, and strict — the energy can be a bit of a buzzkill, and can definitely feel restrictive and challenging, but ultimately it's there to help you grow and learn to be more responsible. "Saturn is the greater malefic, representing boundaries, limits, restrictions, and the relationship with the paternal," Stardust says. You may be familiar with Saturn in relation to the infamous Saturn return, which happens to everyone around their late twenties (cue total existential breakdown). Saturn is all about tough love, hard work, and overcoming challenges — but remember, it's only hard on us because it wants us to learn to be the most mature and wise version of ourselves we can be.
Planet of: originality; awakenings; progressiveness; revelations; letting your freak flag fly while marching to the beat of your own drum.
Naturally rules: Aquarius
Expect the unexpected with Uranus, as this planet is all about shaking up the norms, balking at tradition, and challenging the status quo. It's progressive, forward-thinking, and hyper-creative, but also prone to abrupt shifts and changes — with Uranus, you never know what will happen next or when. "Uranus is considered the 'Great Awakener,' as it shakes up the world, through revolutions, technological, and innovation, on a global level," Stardust says. Uranus doesn't care about tradition for the sake of nostalgia — it cares about being innovative, fresh, and unique no matter what. In fact, this planet is sometimes likened to a lightning bolt given the way it shocks us with sudden insights and inspirations. Uranus is the most unpredictable of the planets, but it's innovative and one-of-a-kind energy is part of what makes life interesting.
Planet of: intuition; dreams; spirituality; idealism; psychic/floating off into astral space during a deep third eye meditation.
Naturally rules: Pisces
Dreamy, other-worldly Neptune is the most mystical and ethereal of the bunch. This planet's meanings are as deep as its color is blue, as it's representative of psychic intuition and spiritual attunement, as well as dreams and artistic expression. As Stardust explains, "Neptune represents dreams, illusion, and fantasy." Given it's dreamy, inter-dimensional nature, it also has a tendency to detach from reality a bit, so Neptune also speaks to your sense of escapism, and the things you might do to cope with the harshess of reality. But if you can avoid falling into the escapist tendencies this planet can induce, it can help you understand your sensitivity, psychic powers, and spiritual depth.
Planet of: transformations; the underworld; the subconscious mind; intensity in general.
Naturally rules: Scorpio
Pluto may have been robbed of its planethood by scientists back in 2006 — a harsh move indeed, especially to the planet named after the ruler of the underworld. But in astrology, Pluto is as planet as can be — and is a very intense and sometimes dark one, at that. "Pluto encompasses the energy of transformation," McGarry says. Trasformation is a concept that obviously covers a lot of ground — think the energy of light and dark, death and rebirth, day to night, endings into beginnings. Pluto rules over the extreme ends of any spectrum, and also governs all that is subterranean or hidden beneath the surface. Because Pluto is the furthest planet from the Earth, its effects are often felt on a more collective, societal level than a personal level.