This is called the ruler. Leo is ruled by the Sun and Virgo is ruled by Mercury and so forth. This system used to work for all the signs, and dates back beyond a guy named Claudius Ptolemy in the second century, pictured above. Called the most influential astrologer in Western history, Ptolemy attempted to write the cliff notes on all astrological knowledge known to date, put together in Tetrabiblios, his master work in our field; his knowledge spread into many other areas and he was probably one of the most educated men off his era. That was back in the day when part of not being ignorant meant having astrological knowledge.
Anyway, rulerships. Writes the Encyclopedia of Astrology, "The traditional system held that the Sun and Moon (the two luminaries) ruled one sign apiece, Leo and Cancer, respectively. The known planets each ruled two signs: Mercury ruled Virgo and Gemini,, Venus ruled Taurus and Libra, Mars ruled Aries and Scorpio, Jupiter ruled Sagittarius and Pisces, and Saturn ruled Capricorn and Aquarius." That was the original system.
Sign rulers are important because, among other things, they give us an energy picture of a sign, and a cycle associated with it; they give the sign a lead character; and, in reading a chart, they point us to the planet associated with the sign that is on the cusp of any given house. That planet will probably not be located within that house, but it will affect that house's affairs no matter where it appears. For example, I have Leo on the cusp of my 3rd house (a house which is about writing). But it appears in my 10th house (getting out there in the public eye). Leo on my third cusp gives a picture of the sometimes dramatic flair I put into my work, but with the sun in my 10th, we both know I'm serious. The rulership system is pretty cool. And it works best using the old, original rulership system given to us by Uncle Claudius.
All was well and neat, just as men would have nature be, until Uranus came along in seventeen eightysomething, and started doing his number on reality. An astrologer named Raphael the First, revered by many deeply learned men as not knowing much, determined that Uranus was the new ruler of Aquarius. That was back in like 18-oh-something. Uranus was a bit of a debacle, in many regards; he was named for an overthrown god, but he's a revolutionary. But with Uranus you never know how things are going to turn out.
To make a long story short, Neptune and Pluto were discovered next, and they became what are now known as the modern rulers of Pisces and Scorpio. This left only Virgo and Libra (or is it Gemini and Taurus) without their own modern rulers, and speculation has run amok, and planetoids, asteroids and weird chunks of space debris are now being discovered at the rate of goat balls; there is no hope for a cool, calm system in sight, and Claudius isn't here to guide his flock, but hey, if he makes his second coming he gets a free reading from me, and a fine dinner.
Now for the Point of Why I am Writing Tonight
Chiron, discovered in 1977, was tossed into this interplanetary debate. What would he rule? There was the Virgo camp, headed by Barbara Hand Clow, amongst others; she proposed that Chiron is about healing, and thus, Virgo. It is a compelling discussion. Chiron surely has an affinity for Virgo. Others, though said Look! Up In The Sky! It's a Horse-Man With a Bow and Arrow! and the obvious choice was that Chiron, the first Centaur and ruler of his race, to the extent that you can rule the Hell's Angels*, ruled Sagittarius. Not bad. Warrior spirit, the use of knowledge, and so on, all very Chirotic, all very Sagittarian. Actually, there are lots of Virgos who are way too intense to be just about Mercury and so many Sagitattitudes who are way way too freaking intense to be ruled by big fat, jovial, wine-sloshing Jupiter. Others said Libra! Libra! and a few said You fools, it's Scorpio. They have been nearly forgotten, except by me.
Now, sticking to Sagittarius, it's clear that there are at least two levels to this sign: you might say the Professor Shmedley level, and the Princess Leah level; the graduate library and the Golden Quest. The misty and the zesty. The student and the warrior. With two planets sharing an affinity for Sagittarius, we get a good picture of this distinction, this polarity, with Chiron giving us the more intense, pointed, daring aspects of Sagittarius which we all know so well. I mean that sign is bitchin'!
Sagittarius, Jupiter and Chiron all share an eclectic property. They are archetypes of things worldly and knowledgeable. But it's really a question of delivery; of application. It can work many ways. So if you are looking at Chiron in a chart, look at the Sagittarian influence he brings wherever he is. And for that matter, look at the Virgo influence. And if you're looking at Sagittarius, check Jupiter first, then Chiron; I believe in reading the traditional ruler and getting its story before checking the modern ruler, in all cases. I am Mr. Chiron, but when reading a chart, if I look at Virgo, by habit I look to Mercury, give a little bow, then check Chiron. (My tradition-steeped technical astrology teacher, Dave Arner, was not against the use of modern planets, but he encouraged me to honor the old teachings as a kind of foundation. And I handed him a few charts and said look at those freakin' asteroids! What're you gonna say to Juno showing up 12 times in one day?)
The old rules give us the rulers. The idea of a rulership is a syntax tool, not this thing that's supposed to trap you in a thought process. In the modern world, it's here to give you ideas and point you to some potential facts or observations. Know the rules, and test them out, but be flexible, and your astrology will be better.
Enter Alice Bailey
Fifty years ago, someone pen-named Alice A. Bailey, an occultist, Theosophist (another story) and one of the founders of the New Age spiritual movement, delivered unto us a book called Esoteric Astrology. This book is widely understood to be incomprehensible, and many astrologers just laugh it off. But some have paused to wade through its 600+ convoluted pages. I say buy it, suffer and be brilliant, or at least pretend. It is complex, it is Sagittarian beyond your wildest G-soaked hallucinations, it is long, it is disorganized, but it has some vurry interesting tidbits.
One of them is that AAB proposes a new set of planetary rulers, which she calls the esoteric rulers. You find out that she believes that Pisces is really ruled by Pluto and that Cancer is really ruled by Neptune, to give two good examples. These rulerships work quite well, in theory and when you study charts through their lens. She tells us that Sagittarius, interestingly, is ruled by the Earth, which isn't even capitalized if you look it up in the dictionary. Now this is a really on point, given the fact that Sagittarius is all about what is worldly, global, international; and that in her view the Earth is one of the "non sacred" planets and that it's undergoing what you might call initiation through Sagittarius and its divine ray, the sixth.
Well it makes perfect sense: all this bullshit is just your average Sixth Ray divine initiation! John Ashcroft, we love you.
* It was Dave Arner himself who characterized the Centaurs as the Hell's Angels of mythology, demonstrating that he can skate quite well on the thin ice of modern astrology.