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The Planet that Rules the House

Master’s Musings, April 2024

The Planet that Rules the House

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Master’s Musings
Virgo is on the cusp of my 10th house. Since Mercury is the ruler of Virgo, we can say that Mercury rules my 10th house. That’s an example of a common phrase in the technical  language of our craft. It’s also a useful concept once we get clear about how it works. 
Let’s begin by recognizing that the word “rules” can get us into a world of trouble right from the starting line. It’s not that Mercury “tells my 10th house what to do” like a mean boss or a tyrant. As ever with rulership, it’s more about friendship between a house and planet than about any issues of authority or control. There is a resonance between a planet and the house it rules, that’s all. With planets and the signs they rule, the words we use to describe one are similar to the words we would use to describe the other. When a sign falls on the cusp of a house, the planet that rules that sign influences the house – but again, it’s about affinity, connection, and similarity, not about domination.


Rulership links one part of a chart to another part. It’s like an astrological version of the circulatory system in your body.


Even beginning students of astrology quickly become aware of the power of the planet that rules the Ascendant – the so-called “ruler of the chart.” What we are considering here is basically the same idea, but extended to include the rest of the house cusps.


Book of the universe – opened magic book with planets and galaxies. Elements of this image furnished by NASA
With my Virgo Midheaven, my profession naturally takes on a Virgo tone. For starters, it’s a service. It also involves some other Virgo signatures. For example, in order to live out my proper mission in this world, I’ve had to master a complex technical system. I’ve also benefited enormously from contact with teachers as I was “initiated into a lineage.” That idea of being initiated by mentors, by the way, is a big piece of Virgo (or 6th house) lore that often sadly gets forgotten in modern astrological practice.
I’ve got Saturn on my Midheaven too, but that’s a bit outside the point I’m wanting to explore in this essay – which brings us back to Mercury being the planetary ruler of my 10th house. That means that wherever Mercury lies in my chart, its energetic fingerprint is going to be felt in my career and public image.
In my natal chart, Mercury is on the cusp of my 3rd house – the house of language. And what do I do for a living? I talk and I write! My Mercury is in Capricorn – and what I talk and write about is complicated and requires an orderly, logical (Capricornian!) approach if anybody is going to understand me. Note how knowing where the ruler of my 10th house lies has added specific details to my chart’s description of my mission in the world. That’s one dimension of how the ruler of a house cusp actually works.
Many people have Virgo Midheavens and naturally Mercury rules them all – but that’s generally from a different position than my own Mercury. Take astronaut John Glenn, for example – he was the first American to orbit the Earth. Mercury rules his Virgo Midheaven, but from the 8th house and Cancer in a conjunction with Mars and Pluto. To realize his mission, John Glenn had to face the possibility of a scary death – there’s the 8th house signature, augmented explosively by the presence of Mars and Pluto. And he had to face that grim possibility while trapped in a tight little tin can a hundred miles up in the sky, which is where we see the Cancer symbolism (a crab in a shell!) come into the mixture.   
Like me, John Glenn had to master a complex technical system. Like me, he was part of a lineage – in his case, of explorers. And like me, he probably felt that he was doing a service for the world. All that is the mark of the Virgo Midheaven. He and I hold that in common – but beyond that, no one is going to confuse John Glenn with Steven Forrest. Our Midheaven-ruling Mercuries tell very different tales.
Here’s another example – one that demonstrates how widely the ruler of the Midheaven can range in meaning.
Back in Hollywood’s Golden Age, actor Bette Davis was often in the spotlight. Even now, nearly a century after her heyday, she’s still considered to be one of the most truly iconic film stars – and as someone who made it in the movie industry based on her actual theatrical talent rather than on having a pretty face. She made 82 films and garnered 10 Oscar nominations, including winning Best Actress for Dangerous in 1935 and for Jezebel in 1938. 
Like John Glenn and me, Bette Davis had a Virgo Midheaven, but this time we find that her Mercury lies in Pisces and the 4th house. 
What do truly fine actors like Bette Davis do? They become somebody else – there’s Pisces “transcending the ego.” To succeed at that, they have to hide their own natures – there’s the 4th house. 
Acting also involves mastering a set of technical skills, of course – there’s the signature of the Virgo Midheaven. But in Bette Davis’s case, those technical skills are subjective and creative as befits Mercury in Pisces and the 4th house. I’m also fascinated to think of the psychological work a fine actor must do in order to find the whole spectrum of human types inside themselves. To me, there’s something truly spiritual about that process. Once more, in those words, we feel the vibrations of both the 4th house and Pisces.




Earlier, I mentioned my own Virgo Midheaven. That of course gives me Pisces on my 4th house cusp. So what planet rules my 4th house? Is it Jupiter, the traditional ruler, or Neptune, the modern one? As usual, my suggestion is to use both of them. 
I’m always self-conscious when I go on at length about myself, so I’ll keep this brief. Taking the 4th house to be the “house of the home” implies not only the building in which we live, but also loving, committed relationships in it – “our family,” at least in some sense of the word. 
Let me start with Neptune – a planet which often entails letting go of good things for some higher calling. With often-ascetic Neptune ruling my “house of family,” I’ve never had children. My Libran Neptune in the 11th house has called me to “serve my tribe” in a way that never fit with the possibility of being a good, present father. So that never happened.
What about Jupiter, the traditional ruler of Pisces? I can relate to that too. 
Jupiter is conjunct my Sun in Capricorn and the 2nd house. Again, I could yack about myself at length here, but very simply I now live in a beautiful home that makes me feel like a rich man – there’s Jupiter in the 2nd house impacting my 4th house experience and style of life. I hasten to add that I definitely didn’t start out that way. I grew up in a 3-room 4th floor walk-up apartment in an edgy ethnic neighborhood just outside the Bronx in the New York City area. I’ve come a long way from there. Today I live in a style I could barely imagine then. 
I’m grateful for my life and I’d be the first to say that I have been lucky – but I’ve worked hard too. There’s the Capricorn signature – to get to my present 4th house home took a lot of hard (and very meaningful!) effort. Once again, the ruler of the 4th house cusp – in this case, the traditional ruler – tells the story, augmenting what we might see based solely on the sign we find there.




Let me add one more practical perspective. About one time out of every twelve, you will find that the planetary ruler of a house is actually in the house that it rules. Obviously this affords us less enhancement of our perspective – although let’s add that it’s not unusual for the ruling planet to be in the next sign, and that can offer a bit of fresh information.
  • What I’ve found to be generally true in the situation where the planetary ruler is in the house it rules is that the person’s success in terms of that house depends very much on independent, “self-starting” activity. 
I think happily for example of my own 2nd house – the “house of money.” Sagittarius is on the cusp and Jupiter is in the 2nd house too, but in Capricorn. As I write, I am one month away from celebrating the 47th anniversary of me not having a boss. For most of my life, I’ve been self-employed. No one else has been signing my paychecks.
Did I mention feeling lucky? 




Sometimes the connection between the house and the position of its ruler is very obvious. You can see that clearly in the three easy examples I’ve explored here – John Glenn, Bette Davis, and me. Other times the linkage is more subtle. In a moment, I want to present three technical views of planetary house rulers. Reliably, at least one of them will jump out as you compare a chart with the dynamics of a person’s life. 
Before I get there, let me emphasize that so far I’ve mostly been using the example of the planet that rules the Midheaven. That’s no accident –  in practical counseling astrology, questions around career are common and knowing the position of the ruler of the 10th house adds a lot of helpful perspective.  Still, every house has a sign on its cusp and in every case, knowing the position of its ruling planet adds a helpful dimension to our understanding. Where’s the ruler of your 7th house? You’ll see something there about your partner, if you have one – or where to look for one if you don’t and would like to change that. The ruler of your 5th house? What’s the natural style of your creativity and where might you find the most bang for the buck in terms of simple joy in your life?
I’m hoping that these illustrations have given you a feeling for how to work with the planetary ruler of a house. Again, just think of resonance or connection between the house and its ruler. Through rulership we link the basic meaning of a house to some other “foreign” part of the chart – and typically at first it’s a part of the chart that seems to have nothing to do with the house in question – until you think about it for a while. Then the linkage becomes apparent.
So far these examples have been about lives that are already lived – or mostly lived. That’s how we often can see the full manifestation of anything astrological, so it’s a good way to learn. But what about when we are counseling a young person – or counseling someone who’s feeling lost or confused in life? Then these principles can help us aim such a person in the right direction. That’s when they really turn to gold. 
Let me underscore once more that in thinking rigorously about the planetary rulership of houses, it’s mission-critical to get beyond the notion of the planet somehow “controlling” the house. Sometimes it actually works that way, but other times it’s the reverse. The bottom line is that the house and the planet are meant to be a team, working together to help people become what they are meant to become. 
I want to offer three interlocking perspectives on these planetary house rulers. Even though you’ll see some contradictions among them, try thinking of these three templates as different angles of understanding rather than as an argument where there’s going to be a winner. In practice, what I suggest is that if you feel stuck as you try to sort out a pattern of house rulerships, try switching among these three frameworks. In my experience, one of them will usually leap out – and with more penetrating analysis, you’ll typically find some relevance in all three of them.
  • The energy of the house expresses itself (reveals itself; flowers) through the house, sign, and aspectual position of the planetary ruler of its cusp.
  • The planetary ruler of the house cusp governs, overshadows and focuses the expression of the house energy. 
  • The planetary ruler of the house cusp serves the needs of the house, bringing it what it needs in order to shine.
Once again, planetary rulers of house cusps operate like the circulatory systems in the human body, carrying energy from one part of the chart to another, binding everything together. As ever, our goal in chart interpretation lies in wholistic integration. You have many planets in your chart, but you have only one head between your ears. Rulership is one of your most reliable allies when it comes to melding many symbols into one coherent message.
Steven Forrest
April 2024