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Scorpio often gets a bad rap in modern astrology for being particularly sexually intense. To be fair, connections between Venus as sexuality and Mars as passion and energy-overload could pertain to lust in ancient astrology. Therefore, a case might be made for an augmented sex drive associated with Venus in a sign of Mars (such as Scorpio). However, it is worth noting that in Hellenistic astrology there was a particular set of signs identified as being more lustful than others, and Scorpio was typically not one of them. In this article, I’ll be briefly discussing which signs these were and how they were used to indicate “wanton” or “excessive” sexual behavior.
The Lustful Signs
Dorotheus (1st century CE)
Aries, Taurus, Capricorn, and Pisces comprise the early list of lustful signs given by Dorotheus (1st century CE).
“If Venus is in one of the signs of desire, which abound in lust (they are Aries, Capricorn, Pisces, and Taurus), and Venus is under the [Sun’s] rays with Saturn or Mars, then this indicates [something] like what I told you of the act of scandals; [it indicates] similarly if you find Venus in what I named for you of the signs of desire and one of the two malefics, Saturn and Mars, is overcoming it [Venus] from quartile.” (Dorotheus, Book II,. Ch. 7, #5, Pingree trans., 2005, p. 206)
For Dorotheus it was the position of Venus in one of these signs which was significant. Scandal was indicated when this was the case and she was either dominated by a malefic (right side square) or with a malefic and under the beams. The basic idea is to be mindful of whether Venus is maltreated by malefics while in one of these lustful signs. If so, then the afflictions pertaining to the malefic influence are more likely to pertain to unrestrained sexuality.
Valens (2nd century CE)
Vetius Valens noted that “lurking” signs and degrees can indicate perversity when pertaining to Venus-Saturn aspects. However, only Capricorn was described as lurking by Valens. He also never explained how a set of degrees could be lurking. My own interpretive suggestion would be to consider the lustful signs as noted by Dorotheus, as well as the lustful twelfth-parts of the signs.
“If these stars [Venus and Saturn] are in “lurking” signs or degrees, men enjoy impure passions and unnatural pleasures.” (Valens, Book II, Ch. 17P, Riley trans., 2010, p. 33)
Ptolemy (2nd century CE)
Ptolemy did not give a list of lustful signs, but did note incest as a possible indication for Venus being in the same sign of Mars when that sign was Capricorn or Pisces. Mercury in the same sign additionally indicated notoriety.
“Therefore Venus, with Mars, produces merely amorous dispositions, but if Mercury is present, notoriety also; in the common and familiar signs, Capricorn and Pisces, unions with brethren or kindred.” (Ptolemy, Book IV, Ch. 5, Robbins trans., 1940, p. 401)
Firmicus Maternus (4th century CE)
Maternus noted Aries as a lustful but his descriptions for most of the other signs are missing in the surviving manuscripts. He did, however, often associate Aries and Capricorn with excesses of lust (and sometimes homosexuality). He associated, Aries, Capricorn, and Taurus with sexual vices in at least one passage (Book VII, Ch. XXV, #20). Most of his material on sexuality is in Book VII, Ch. XXV, but there are also stray mentions of degrees, terms, and other zodiacal divisions associated with lust and perversion in the relevant sections.
Hephaistio of Thebes (5th century CE)
Hephaistio did not provide a list of lustful signs. However, in his descriptions of the signs he characterized only Leo as licentious.
Rhetorius (6th-7th century CE)
Leo is added to the list of Rhetorius (perhaps from Hephaistio), as well as Libra noted to a lesser extent.
“The lecherous signs are Aries, Taurus, Leo, Capricorn in part, and Pisces; and Libra because the [constellation of the] Goat rises with it.” (Rhetorius, Ch. 76, Holden trans., 2009, p. 125)
However, in another section, speaking only of the placement of Venus, he associates the domiciles of Saturn and Mars with lechery generally when the malefics aspect Venus.
“Venus in Capricorn or Pisces or Scorpio or Taurus aspected by Saturn or Mars makes lechers, especially [if she is] under the sunbeams. Venus in the domicile of Saturn or Mars [and] aspected by them makes lechers.” (Rhetorius, Ch. 66, Holden trans., 2009, p. 121)
Note that the early Hellenistic astrologers stressed Aries, Taurus, Capricorn, and Pisces. Therefore, we should be somewhat cautious with Rhetorius whose two lists combine to 8 signs taking up two-thirds of the zodiac.
Venus in Decans
Rhetorius also associated the following decans with lechery, particularly if Venus were placed in one, and she were out of sect or otherwise afflicted (Ch. 68): 1st of Aries; 2nd of Gemini, 1st of Leo; 3rd of Leo; 1st of Libra; 1st of Scorpio; 3rd of Sagittarius; 1st or 2nd of Capricorn; 3rd of Aquarius; 3rd of Pisces. These are the Mars decan of Aries, Mars decan of Gemini, Saturn and Mars decans of Leo, Moon decan of Libra, Mars decan of Scorpio, Saturn decan of Sagittarius, Jupiter and Mars decans of Capricorn, Moon decan of Aquarius, and Mars decan of Pisces.
Venus and Malefics
Note that the placement of Venus in any martial decan is associated with lust for Rhetorius. Additionally, Rhetorius is one of the first Hellenistic authors who clearly associated a planet in the sign opposite its domicile (i.e. its detriment) with a corrupting influence on the planet. Similarly, he associated Scorpio with excessive lust at one point (see above). Therefore, Rhetorius seemed to connect both Venus in dignity (her domiciles and exaltation) and in detriment (Aries and Scorpio) with excessive lust. He also associated her position in a sign of Saturn with such.
Rhetorius may have had an internal logic for stressing that dignity or malefic influence can lead to excess. Perhaps in dignity Venus can be amplified to excess, given other indications. Similarly, in the house of a malefic she may be corrupted by the influence of the malefic, provided reinforcement from similar configurations. In any case, it is clear that connections with malefics, particularly Venus-Mars connections, and sign dignity are both significant for Rhetorius.
Other Decan Placements
The Ascendant in the 3rd decan (Venus) of Aries, 1st (Moon) or 3rd (Jupiter) of Libra, or 1st decan (Jupiter) of Capricorn were also said to pertain to excessive lust.
Other planets in specific decans were also associated with excessive lust for Rhetorius. The Sun in the 3rd decan of Aries, any decan of Libra, 1st decan of Scorpio, or 1st or 3rd of Pisces was said to make lechers or effeminates. The Moon in the 3rd decan of Aries, 3rd of Leo, 3rd of Capricorn, 3rd of Libra, 3rd of Aquarius, or 1st decan of Pisces was said to signify the same. For Saturn it was the 3rd decan of Aries, 1st and 3rd of Libra, and 1st and 3rd of Capricorn. Jupiter’s lecherous decans are the 3rd decan of Aries, 1st and 3rd of Libra, and 1st and 3rd of Capricorn. For Mars they are they 3rd decan of Aries and 1st and 3rd of Libra. Mercury’s are the 1st decan of Libra and 1st decan of Capricorn.
In conclusion, the 3rd decan of Aries (the Venus decan), 1st and 3rd (Moon and Jupiter) decans of Libra, and 1st and 3rd (Jupiter and Sun) decans of Capricorn are those most frequently associated with excessive lust.
Rhetorius associated some specific degrees with excessive lust. This pertained primarily to the placement of the Ascendant in them but he also advised to check the Descendant, Venus, Moon, Lot of Fortune, Lot of Marriage, and Lot of Love in this respect. I will give the ordinal degrees, so the 13th degree is equivalent to 12°. Aries: 13th, 14th, 22nd, 24th, 27th, 28th, and 30th. Taurus: 13th-18th. Leo: 25th-30th. Capricorn: 11th and 12th. Rhetorius also noted that the final degrees of each fire sign are effeminizing.
Venus in Dignity
As we can see from the information above, the main signs of lust in Hellenistic astrology were Aries, Taurus, Capricorn, and Pisces, with the sometimes addition of Leo and Libra. It is interesting that the domiciles and exaltation of Venus comprise 3 of the 6 signs noted in Hellenistic astrology, and 2 of the 4 noted in the early authors.
The Dorothean list of 4 signs, which are the ones echoed in the other early authors, seem to have an internal logic. Excessive lust is indicated when Venus is very reinforced by being in one of her own house or exaltation of her own sect (Taurus and Pisces, both nocturnal) or is in one of the houses of the malefics that is of the contrary sect to that malefic (Saturn’s nocturnal home or Mars’ diurnal home). The additions of Leo and Libra may have to do with the more public and showy nature of Leo and the cardinal Venusian nature of the day home of Venus.
Into the Middle Ages
Compare the list given by al-Qabisi (10th century CE).
“And certain ones are said to be very wanton: Aries, Taurus, Leo, and Capricorn.” (al-Qabisi, Introduction to Astrology, Book I, Ch. 24, Dykes trans., 2010, p. 64)
The Perso-Arabic astrologers appear to have been heavily influenced by Dorotheus and Rhetorius and this list is something of a hybrid of the two. It is interesting that this list includes Leo, like that of Rhetorius, but drops Pisces and doesn’t mention Libra, one of the signs noted by Rhetorius.
Perhaps Pisces was not noted because it is the exaltation of Venus, and Libra was not noted because it was not mentioned by Dorotheus and is also a place of dignity for Venus. Taurus is mentioned and is another domicile of Venus and was included. However, many Hellenistic astrologers separately mentioned Taurus in this regard (at least Dorotheus, Maternus, and Rhetorius) so an exclusion on the basis of “dignity” would not be so easy for al-Qabisi due to its break with tradition.
Dignity Do No Wrong
Interestingly, Bonatti (12th century CE) noted the lustful signs as Aries, Leo, Libra, and Capricorn, which again drops two of the most significant lustful signs (Taurus and Pisces) that also happen to be places Venus is dignified. Why Bonatti still then included Libra is unclear. In any case, the medieval pruning of the list of lustful signs always appears to be motivated by dignity considerations.
Here, we again see the gradual evolution of the interpretation of sign dignity from a sense of reinforcement of the natural signification (sex, in this case) to a sense of significations becoming “dignified”. Something similar happened with associations of Mercury in his own domiciles as well (see my article on Mercury in domicile as an indication of mental instability).
First, it should be noted that many ancient authors delineate sexuality and discuss wanton sexuality without any reference to this set of signs. Even in those authors that use these signs, they are discussed among many other indicators. In short, you cannot delineate the extent of a person’s lust or how wanton their sexual behavior is from placements in these signs alone. Be aware of this and please do not attempt the delineation of sexual concerns casually and without extensive experience, testing, and refining of the techniques for doing so.
The placement of Venus in one of these signs is particularly important and was stressed by Dorotheus. In his approach she would indicate scandal in such signs if she were also under the beams and with or dominated by malefics. In this we see a more lustful Venus + hidden + strongly influenced toward difficulties = sexual scandal.
Personal Points and their Rulers
Rhetorius gave two different lists of such signs but did not delineate their use at that place in his work. In preceding chapters pertaining to lechery he seemed most interested in placements of the Ascendant and Venus though (in certain degrees and decans respectively). In Chapter 116 on “Lechery”, Rhetorius did use the lecherous signs explicitly in his example. He directed us to look at placement in such signs of the ruler of the Ascendant, ruler of the Lot of Fortune (Lot of the Moon), and ruler of the Lot of Daemon/Spirit (Lot of the Sun). Apparently, the occurrence of all three in lecherous signs indicated that the subject of the chapter was a lecherous person.
This pertains to the rulers of the most personal point (the Ascendant) and the most personal Lots (those of the Lights). Therefore, we get the sense that Rhetorius found it important when the person (personal points) is directed (rulers) toward signs indicative of lustful behavior.
Umar al-Tabari (8th Century CE) also examined the signs abounding in lust (Three Books on Nativities, II, Ch. 5). Like other authors he stressed Venus and personal significators. Additionally, (like Maternus) he looked at points pertaining to relationships. Umar al-Tabari had a sort of “winner” technique for this. One was to examine if many of the following are in lustful signs: Venus, the Sun, Lot of Marriage (Saturn to Venus from Asc for men, Venus to Saturn from Asc for women), many personal significators, and Lord of the 7th. If so, then the person was said to be excessively sexual or perverse.
The lustful signs are an interesting and controversial classification of the signs. Hellenistic astrologers tended to delineate sexual vices and afflictions as pertaining more to specific configurations with the malefics. However, the lustful signs could be said to exacerbate the indications or at least focus them more specifically to excessive sexuality.
As sex is an important aspect of the human experience, all ages have associated the signs with varying degrees of sexuality. Looking at the traditional astrologers and their more loaded vocabulary of lechery, perversion, and sodomy easily courts controversy. However, look up modern delineations of Venus through the signs and you will find sexual types perhaps with more sensitive wording.
The Evolving Face of Dignity
In the early list of lustful signs found in Dorotheus, and echoed by other Hellenistic astrologers, we find an interesting stress on a domicile and exaltation of Venus when it comes to sexual excess. Today, a time when many traditional astrologers associate dignity with “do no wrong” it is not uncommon for astrologers to instead associate ill-dignified Venus with such things. Therefore, the lustful signs also remind us that moderation was a virtue for the ancients, detriment was lacking from the vocabulary of the early Hellenistic astrologers, and a planet was not so constrained in its own places.
Dorotheus of Sidon. (2005). Carmen Astrologicum. (D. Pingree, Trans.). Abingdon, MD: Astrology Center of America.
Dykes, Benjamin, trans. and ed., Introductions to Traditional Astrology: Abu Ma’shar & al-Qabisi (Minneapolis, MN: The Cazimi Press, 2010).
Ptolemy, C. (1940). Ptolemy: Tetrabiblos. (F. E. Robbins, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Loeb Classical Library. Retrieved from http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Ptolemy/Tetrabiblos/home.html
Rhetorius of Egypt, & Teucer of Babylon. (2009). Rhetorius the Egyptian. (J. H. Holden, Trans.). Tempe, AZ: American Federation of Astrologers.
Valens, V. (2010). Anthologies. (M. Riley, Trans.) (Online PDF.). World Wide Web: Mark Riley. Retrieved from http://www.csus.edu/indiv/r/rileymt/Vettius%20Valens%20entire.pdf
Featured image is Leda and the Swan (detail), Roman copy of late Hadrianic age from an attic original of mid-1st century BC, Venice Museo Archeologico, Italy. Photo by Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Feb. 2019: This article was extensively updated in early February 2019 with the addition of quotes from ancient texts, some additional analysis, and a new featured image.