It’s not fair. Some sky neighborhoods are more advantaged than others. Planets from these lush zones are born into comfortable nurseries. They’re typically well nurtured and/or naturally gifted. The roads to their success are generally smooth. The sky holds stark neighborhoods too. Planets born in these zones face more challenges. The roads are rough, often unpaved. Fewer helping hands extend in their direction. Success—while not impossible—requires greater grit and ingenuity. These planets typically need determination to overcome their odds.
“Dignity” and “detriment” are astrology’s terms for these two different neighborhoods. Planets born into favorable signs—those they rule or complement—are considered in “dignity.” Planets born into unfavorable signs—those opposite the ones they rule or complement—are considered handicapped. Understanding which neighborhood a planet comes from reveals a lot about its natural strengths and weaknesses.
It also explains the sharp contrast in likability between two strong women on this year’s national political scene: Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton. One has a dignified Venus—the other has a Venus in detriment. Can you guess who has which?
More than any other planet, Venus shapes our likability. She’s an innately social archetype, the part of us that’s most naturally happy, loving, and receptive. In her purest expressions, she likes making heart connections, bringing pleasure, inspiring the world with her beauty. She exudes grace, poetry, and kindness. It’s her nature to make others feel welcome. In her own signs, Libra or Taurus, she’s especially gifted at these divinely feminine arts. She’s also exquisite in Pisces, the sign where she’s “exalted.”
In guarded Scorpio and reactive Aries, however, Venus is in her detriment. Both signs are Mars-ruled. And what does HE know about being feminine? Not much! Mars is the warrior archetype. He’s our inner protector and daredevil. It works for him to be competitive, initiating and combative. Society doesn’t typically like seeing these qualities in someone wearing lipstick and a dress. Assertive, powerful women are routinely judged as being cold or domineering–they often get the “bitch” or “witch” label. Nor does society have much love for Venus in prim and disciplined Virgo, where the goddess is in her “fall.” Venus is supposed to be sexy and fun; these aren’t the first words that come to mind with shy and thoughtful Virgo.
Michelle Obama was born with an exalted Venus in Pisces. A remarkably popular first lady, she’s not only won higher approval ratings than her first-lady predecessors, she’s been consistently loved, maintaining her high ratings even as her husband’s dipped. At the 2016 Democratic National Convention, she was the most popular speaker, better liked than two presidents and the top two candidates. It was Hillary Clinton’s party, but everyone loved Michelle. She’s the only first lady to be ranked on Maxim’s “Hot 100” list. “If she meets you, she’ll probably hug you,” is a particularly Venusian revelation on a list of 14 things we didn’t know about her. This is an exalted Venus at work! How perfect that a romantic movie was made about the story of her and Barack’s first date. A Venus in Pisces is a charmed Venus. Having a husband who adores her, two fine daughters and her loving mother living all together in the White House, the first African-American family to occupy this famous house built by slaves–well, it sounds like one of the happier fairy tales ever to come true. Not all Venuses in Pisces live inside such a dreamy life, but all have a deep and very real connection to grace.
Hillary Clinton was born with a disadvantaged Venus in Scorpio. Adding further emphasis, her Sun and Mercury are also in this sign. Those who know Clinton say she’s tough, intelligent, focused, and driven—all strong Scorpio qualities. And while these traits can make for a great president, they aren’t particularly appreciated in a Venus.
In the late seventies, Hillary was the wife of the youngest governor in Arkansas history. She was not only an outsider from Chicago, she was also a hippy, with funny glasses and wild “I don’t care” hair who worked as a lawyer and didn’t take her husband’s last name. She was not what people expected from the governor’s wife. Sadly, her husband wasn’t reelected and Hillary felt her unorthodox image was partly to blame. So she transformed herself. Dramatic change and endurance are gifts that lie at the heart of this sign. Defeats are the bonfire-and-ash from which Scorpio planets rise, again and again. Hillary took her husband’s name and repackaged herself as a more traditionally feminine woman. In 1983, Bill was reelected and Hillary served as Arkansas’ first lady until he was elected president in 1992.
To some, Clinton’s changing persona is proof that she’s calculating and untrustworthy. And, like many with the Scorpio temperament, she can appear secretive and cold. But what’s a Scorpio Venus to do? Less understood about Scorpio is that, as a water sign, it’s actually quite sensitive. Driven by Mars, Scorpio’s emotions are intense—and easily provoked. This requires that children with Scorpio planets become more guarded, which again, in Venus is something people don’t like to see. But a Scorpio Venus won’t give up easily. She’ll keep trying to be liked.
As a goddess of the underworld, Venus in Scorpio can be a kind of flypaper for the negative, unconscious projections of others. The chants of “Lock her up!” ringing through the halls of the Republican Convention sounded eerily like a twenty-first century witch trial, an appropriate bit of theater for Venus in Scorpio. Clinton has been thoroughly investigated more than most throughout her public life—and despite the many attempts to pin some crime on her, it hasn’t happened yet, which just makes the haters even more suspicious.
But is she really crooked and/or evil? Are planets in detriment an indication of genuine character flaws?
This vexing question is one reason that observing dignity and detriment is controversial among modern Western astrologers. Who wants to tell people they have bad planets? This doesn’t fit our more egalitarian, modern view. We like to believe that whatever our skies, we all have free will. Many of us learned astrology with a more elastic view of planets as psychology, where all traits are negotiable. With awareness, we can work on any planet’s “issues.” I started practicing astrology about the same time educators were worrying about children’s self esteem; they started giving trophies just for showing up. It was in the air: We want everyone to feel like a winner!
Nothing has shaken my belief that all planets–wherever they’re placed–are expressions of beauty. And that everyone was born at the perfect moment with the perfect chart for them. But, over the years, I’ve developed a keen respect for the power of detriments and debilities. I understand why observing these strengths and weaknesses was for centuries a key astrology technique. It helps to know which of our planets have power and which are racing into the wind.
This doesn’t mean that people with deficient planets can never be successful. Again, look at Hillary Clinton. Admire her or hate her, few can rival her achievements. At 21, she was the first student to give a valedictory address at Wellesley College–where she drew national attention for challenging the senator giving the keynote address. When Bill met Hillary, she was the celebrity. After law school, she served as a lawyer with the Watergate congressional committee (where she learned a lot about secrecy). She was the first first-lady to have an office in the West Wing and an important policy mission. She attacked the health care problem like a Scorpio. Assembling a trusted team, she met for months behind closed doors and dove deeply into all the angles. But when she emerged to sell her initiative, she couldn’t win the support of key players. She was accused of secrecy and vilified in the public square. She withdrew, and transformed again. Her husband’s affairs were humiliating, yet she was resilient. After the Lewinski scandal, as her husband was limping out of office, Hillary was planning her New York senate campaign. With her debilitated Venus in Scorpio, Clinton has managed to become a senator, a secretary of state, and the first female nominated by a major political party for president. If she wins, another milestone.
But she’s definitely unpopular. Charges of secrecy and chants of “Heil Hillary!” and “Lock her up!” have dogged her at every turn. Her success has been dragged from defeat’s awful jaws many times. Although she’s now identified with the establishment, her story is unconventional. And this may give us the best way to understand planets in dignity and detriment. Simply put: planets in dignity fit the cultural stereotypes and planets in detriment don’t. This is useful information! Our disadvantaged planets are awkward, but not doomed. Nor are they evidence of evil. These aren’t character flaws–they’re indications of our nature. They’re part of who we are. To accept them–even when society doesn’t–is important in accepting ourselves. Like the amputee or the blind man, we can work with and through our handicaps to create extraordinary lives.
But we must use the proper ruler to measure our efforts—something other than the cultural standards. Planets in detriment are different. They’re the square pegs in round holes. They’re the orphaned swans living among ducks. They may irritate others and challenge our chances for happiness. But they also define our individuality. Accepting their “misfit” status can uniquely inspire our special creativity.
People usually know about their difficult planets, but strangely, people’s dignified planets often go unrecognized. These gifts come so easily. Our struggles are noisier–they consume our attention. I’ve noticed that people often don’t see or lean into their talented planets as much as they could. This shouldn’t be a secret, but it is: express more of your chart’s dignity and the lights on your road to success will shine much brighter.
How is your Venus situated? You can calculate your chart with our free chart calculator, Chart Play. You’ll find a list of debilities and detriments for all the planets here. And, you can learn more about your Venus in my Venus Unleashed report, available here.