Recently I read a discussion in a traditional astrology group about combustion, planetary dignity, the effect of sect on the so-called “malefic” planets, Mars and Saturn. Combustion occurs when a planet is obscured by the light of the sun due to its close proximity. Sect refers to whether the sun was above or below the horizon at the time of birth. A Hellenistic principle is that Saturn, as a diurnal planet, acts more favorably with day-time births, whereas the nocturnal planet Mars behaves in a more beneficial way in the lives of natives born between sunset and sunrise. Dignity refers to a planet being posited in a section of the zodiac which it rules as a home sign (domicile), a sign where it is exalted, a triplicity sign, a term or bound region of a sign, or a decan (face). Opposite the sign of exaltation of a planet is the sign of its “depression” or “fall.”
One of the charts discussed in the forum was that of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps whose birth time in unknown. For unknown birth times I generally use a sunrise chart because the symbolism of the rising sun corresponds to the phenomenon of birth. Here is Phelps’ chart in the tropical zodiac set for sunrise because his birth time is unknown.
There is a proposed chart for Phelps floating around the internet with a birth time of 5:55 AM, but it is a speculative chart based on a rectification by a Hindu astrologer V.K. Choudry. In my opinion, rectified charts rarely match the actual birth time, so I am using the sunrise chart which has a solid symbolic rationale.
Because the birth time is unknown, we don’t know whether Phelp’s Mars is in sect (sun below the horizon) or out of sect (sun above the horizon) at the time of birth. If he were born at night, as Choudry’s rectified chart suggests, then Mars would feel at home in the nocturnal chart and would be more beneficial than if Phelps were born during the daytime.
Regardless of sect, Mars is not in great shape in this chart, a fact which might seem surprising in such a great athlete. The red planet is both combust (obscured by the light of the sun) and in Cancer, the sign of its “depression” or fall. William Lilly relates the state of combustion to feeling overpowered by a greater force. The water sign Cancer, ruled by the Moon, is considered a maternal, nurturing, sensitive and emotional sign. In contrast, Mars is a “warrior” planet devoted to action and getting things done in a direct and “hard-ball” manner. Mars doesn’t want to talk about feelings, which are the bread and butter of the sign Cancer.
Michael Phelps has been quite open about his struggles with depression, drugs and alcohol — themes which likely related to his combust and fallen Mars, regardless of the sect of the chart. An argument in favor of a night birth is that Mars, though quite afflicted, has been able to express itself in his remarkable athletic prowess while at the same time being symbolic of his feeling overpowered by emotions during his bouts of depression and his struggle to deal with dependence on drugs and alcohol.
Let me quote from a 2018 interview he gave at Brookhaven Hospital (it is worth reading the interview in its entirety because it fits so well with the symbolism in Phelp’s chart):
“Really, after every Olympics I think I fell into a major state of depression,” said Phelps when asked to pinpoint when his trouble began. He noticed a pattern of emotion “that just wasn’t right” at “a certain time during every year,” around the beginning of October or November, he said. “I would say ’04 was probably the first depression spell I went through.”
… He said drugs were his ways of running from “whatever it was I wanted to run from.” He continued, “It would be just me self-medicating myself, basically daily, to try to fix whatever it was I was trying to run from.”
It is noteworthy that Phelps times the onset of his recurrent seasonal depressions to October and November annually. During these months the Sun is transiting through tropical Libra and Scorpio. Each year in October the transiting Sun stimulates Venus, the ruler of Libra, thus activating his natal Venus opposite Saturn/South Node. As the Sun moves into Scorpio in the late fall, it stimulates the same Venus – Saturn/Ketu opposition from its Scorpio side. Pluto is also activated at this time.
Here is a typical delineation of Saturn opposing Venus quoted from the site Astromatrix: “The opposition between Venus and Saturn shows emotional frustrations. This is a difficult aspect as the harshness of Saturn weighs heavily on the affairs of Venus such as happiness, harmonious relationships, artistic endeavors, and financial security. You may look at your accomplishments with continuous dissatisfaction, underestimating your self-worth.”
Although we can’t reliably use Phelp’s chart to comment about sect, it does provide a good example of the value of delineating planets in combustion and in the sign of their fall or depression. It also demonstrates the way that the transiting sun activates each sign, its occupants and ruler, as it makes its way around the zodiac each year.