Summary: Examining the natural benefic and malefic planets in Vedic Astrology, the terminology used and a list for the nine planets including Rahu and Ketu
List of Natural Benefics and Malefics in Jyotish
- Venus, Jupiter and the waxing Moon are natural benefics
- Mars, Saturn, Rahu and Ketu are natural malefics
- The effects of Mercury depend on its associations
- The Sun is classified as ‘Cruel’ rather than ‘malefic’
- The waning Moon is mildly malefic
Benefics and Malefics – Terminology Explained
From the perspective of higher states of consciousness (as explained in Vedic literature and the philosophy of Vedanta) there are no categories of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Rather, stuff just is! The planets simply act as ‘the cosmic postman’ delivering our returning karmas at the appropriate time. However, for convenience in our discussions below we call a planet’s influence ‘bad’ if it leads to disruption, problems, sufferings and significant challenges in life, and we call it ‘good’ if it leads to happiness, pleasures and the fulfilment of our desires.
In Jyotish, planets which are ‘good’ are called ‘benefics’, those that are ‘bad’ are called ‘malefics’
In Vedic astrology the word used for a natural benefic is ‘shubha’ (literally ‘auspicious’), and for a natural malefic ‘papa’ (literally ‘sinful’).
Nine ‘Planets’ used by Jyotish
Before we continue, it is worth noting that Jyotish does not use the outer planets Neptune, Uranus and Pluto which are used by Western Astrologers. Neither does it use any of the sub-planets, or asteroids such as Chiron. This is because it simply does not need to use them. Jyotish deals with a field of information, rather than physical forces emitted by celestial objects. All the information needed for successful karmic prediction is contained in the position of the nine ‘planets’ (actually Navagraha or the ‘nine key celestial objects’) distributed amongst the twelve zodiacal signs and 27 Nakshatras in the sidereal zodiac.
The ‘nine planets’ used by Vedic Astrology include seven physical objects; Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, plus two virtual objects. These are the calculated points in the sky associated with eclipses (the Moon’s nodes – two places where the orbit of the Moon crosses the plane of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun). The North node is called Rahu and the South node Ketu.
Natural Benefic and Natural Malefic Planets
The concept of ‘Natural Benefic’ or ‘Natural Malefic’ is fairly straightforward.
Certain planets are considered to be inherently positive and bring benefits; others are considered inherently negative and bring difficulties.
In Vedic Astrology, two examples of natural benefic planets are Jupiter and Venus.
In Jyotish, two examples of natural malefic planets are Mars and Saturn.
The above examples would come as no surprise to Western Astrologers. However, there are significant differences between how the other planets behave in Jyotish and in Western Astrology.
What about Mercury? Well, Mercury is considered a benefic when it is on its own, or when associated with benefics (e.g. aspected by benefics, or joined by benefics in the same house), and a malefic when associated with malefics. So, Mercury can take on either benefic or malefic roles according to its associations.
What about the remaining ‘planets’ (although not planets in the astronomical sense) Sun, Moon, Rahu and Ketu?
The Sun is not considered to be a natural benefic in Jyotish. This may be very surprising to Western Astrologers. Because of its ‘fierce heat’ the Sun is often described as ‘cruel’ by Vedic Astrologers. In practice this means that other planets close to the Sun in a birth-chart get ‘scorched’ or ‘become combust’. So natural benefics (such as Venus) near the Sun cannot bring the usual benefits associated with them, and natural malefics (such as Mars) are capable of doing more harm when ‘combust’.
The positive or negative effects of the Moon depend on whether it is growing in brightness (waxing) or decreasing in brightness (waning). A full Moon is very auspicious. The waxing Moon in Jyotish is a natural benefic. The waning Moon is considered malefic (but only a mild malefic influence – many astologers would rather call it ‘ashubha’ – ‘not auspicious’ ).
Jyotish pays considerable attention to the Moon’s nodes; Rahu and Ketu. These have no material existence whatsoever! They are just calculated points where the orbit of the moon around the earth crosses the ecliptic (the plane of Earth’s orbit around the Sun). However they both indicate significant and very real karmic effects. In Jyotish both Rahu and Ketu are malefics.
People new to Jyotish often ask ‘What benefits can a natural benefic, such as Venus, actually bring’? The answer really depends on where Venus is placed in an individual’s chart. Here are the general rules:
Strong planets can do more good than weak ones.
A strong natural benefic will do a lot of good; a weak natural benefic is hardly capable of doing any good at all.
The strength of Planets depends on where they are placed in the Zodiac. In a particular sign (different for each of the planets) planets are greatly strengthened and they are then said to be in their exalted position. In the sign opposite their exalted position they are greatly weakened and are then said to be ‘fallen’ or debilitated. An exalted or ‘own house’ natural benefic will be very positive for the individual. For more details see: Planetary Strengths or Powers
A strong (e.g. exalted or ‘own sign’ status) natural malefic will, in general, bring some good into whatever house it is placed. Therefore, strength in a malefic brings out its good characteristics. A weak malefic will cause major problems. For example, a strong Mars will give good motivation, courage etc.
The above is a general rule ‑ Saturn is a special case. A strong Saturn will bring integrity, humility and patience; it could also bring more adversity and grief during its period of operation (Mahadasha).
The planetary indicators (Karakas) of a range of physiological, psychological, and sociological phenomena related to an individual are discussed in a separate article.
Further Resources for Students of Jyotish
Introduction to Jyotish. A range of articles for people entirely new to Vedic Astrology. Including: Introduction, FAQs, Origins and Karmic Implications.
Key Concepts in Jyotish. Articles covering the Sidereal Zodiac, Planetary Forces, Forecasting Analogies and ‘Planetary Antidotes’.
For Western Astrologers. Articles examining major differences between the two systems and the paradigm shift needed by Western Astrologers wanting to understand the subject.
Learn Jyotish. An extensive collection of articles covering key facts, concepts and methods. Aimed at ‘foundation level’ students. Includes essential information needed before beginning chart interpretations. Covering: Chart Formats, Planets, Houses, Mahadasha Periods, Transits, Aspects, Birth-time Errors, Natural and Functional Benefics / Malefics, Chart Interpretation Basics, etc.